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House lawmakers back bill to boost mental health staff in elementary schools

Delaware Public Media

Legislation seeking to improve mental health services in Delaware schools easily passes in the House.


The bill would have schools hire more counselors, licensed clinical social workers, and school social workers for grades K-5, implementing that hiring over three-years.

It would require a ratio of 250 full-time students for every counselor, and 700 students for every psychologist.

The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Valerie Longhurst says those numbers would be a big improvement over the current situation

"We in the state of Delaware rank 36th in the nation for not having the ratio of students to counselors - 36th we rank - I don't know how that's happened so that's one kid and over a thousand per counselor."

Longhurst says that ratio has spread counselors thin in the state’s schools.

"They have to choose who they're going to pick to work with. Are they going to pick my girl that was bipolar that doesn't have her meds? Are they going to work with my 6th grader who is taking care of his brothers and sisters? Who are they going to take care of? And up and down the state it was the same in each school."

Longhurst adds it’s a choice between dealing with mental health issues in schools now, or letting it become a bigger problem later.

"We have some serious issues in the state of Delaware with some of these kids and this pandemic has not made it easy. What I want to say is that if we don't address it today these are issues that can happen later on in life. They could lead to addiction, they could lead to homelessness, incarceration. If we don't deal with the mental health issues today we're going to deal with them later."

The bill passed 40-0 with one absent, and it now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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