Getting school counselors, teachers and other people who work with youth trained in mental health first aid may be a key step in addressing violence in schools, according to a taskforce convened in St. Charles County following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting last winter.
The group identified a need for additional mental health and crisis intervention training for school counselors and people who work with juveniles.
Mental Health First Aid training teaches counselors how to identify and recognize symptoms of mental health problems and how to guide people toward treatment and help.
"The purpose is how do we reduce stigma about mental health and mental illness?" said Bruce Sowatsky, Executive Director of the Community and Children's Resource Board, the board which over sees the children's tax funds for St. Charles County. "We can have a much more understanding community and be there for people so we don't have situations that go unaddressed and blow up into something tragic."
A training session is scheduled for October for local school staff members, partially funded by the CCRB.
Those people who are trained would then provide training sessions to additional staff members at their schools.
"The thinking was that it's kind of a train-the-trainer model," Sowatsky said. "We are interested in a very systematic approach to focusing in on how do we target the largest group of people that are working with young people."
Sowatsky said they might provide additional training for clergy, sports coaches, girl and boy scout leaders and for people who work in the family court system.
"How do we not have a patchwork or hit and miss kind of appraoch with this?" he said. "We want to be much more strategic about it."
In addition, Stacie Bunning, St. Charles County Family Court Psychologist will offer training in mental health first aid to people involved in the court system.
County Executive Steve Ehlmann on Monday presented a list of recommended best practices compiled by the taskforce to the St. Charles County Council.
- School Districts can purchase radios from St. Charles County which would allow them to quickly contact to the county's new emergency communications system.
- Districts should use risk assessment worksheets and identify the students who have mental health issues and get them help.
- Districts should communicate with law enforcement so both parties are familiar with plans, school layout and drills.
"So many of the schools did not know there was a lot of free, available mental health assistance that was there just for the asking," he said.