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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Our children live in a period of great uncertainty. They are isolated from their friends. They learn remotely. Many of them see the economic consequences brought about by the pandemic. Education, mental health, and law enforcement professionals are fearful of the short- and long-term effects. A recent report found that “Teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March, early studies suggest, and many experts say they fear a corresponding increase in youth suicide”. Additionally, according to NBC news, the proportion of hospital emergency department mental health visits made by children ages 5 to 11 from March to October 2020 increased 24 percent from the prior year. The total increase in children seeking mental health care is likely higher, as this number does not include mental health care provided at other facilities.
Resources to address child mental health, however, were already scarce, due to the unique requirements for professionals to deal with this age group.
In the current economic uncertainty, we do not expect adequate resources from the federal, state, and local levels to fully address the need for children’s mental health resources. It will be up to individual school districts to respond.
Seventeen hundred school resource officers (SRO) participated in a survey conducted by Audubon Management Consultants and supported by the National Association of School Resource Officers: Measuring the Strategic Fit of the School Resource Officer with Law Enforcement (Leaders), the Education System, the Community and Other Interested Parties.
The findings indicate a strong level of partnership between SROs, school faculty and staff, and municipal mental health providers.
Participants were asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with statements on a 7-point Likert scale, where higher numbers indicate greater agreement. Consider the results from two key statements on mental health partnerships:
|We work in partnership with the Faculty and Staff in our school.||6.32|
|We work in partnership with Municipal (county, city, etc.) Mental Health providers.||5.73|
Compare these results to a 2019 survey administered to law enforcement officers and educators in southeast Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and southern New Jersey.
|We work in partnership with Municipal mental health providers.||5.73||4.98||4.65|
Remarkably, the SROs report a higher level of partnership with mental health providers than both non-SRO law enforcement and educators.
This high level of self-reported partnership stands in marked contrast to the level of buy-in to SRO programs from students and parents, as reported in a series of questions on stakeholder understanding of and reaction to the SRO program. The following response options were given for each party the SROs were asked about:
The results for the “Understands and Embraces” category are highly positive for other law enforcement and education professionals, but results for students and parents lag behind.
|Entity||Understands and Embraces|
|School staff - medical||80.8%|
|My police department’s leadership||79.3%|
|School staff - guidance||77.9%|
|School staff - psychologist||71.8%|
The research answered some questions, raised others, and prompted further action. The research team is currently engaged in conversation with various interested parties on developing solutions to address the pressing problem of juvenile mental illness.
We will continue to share results, and we encourage others who will be addressing this problem in their community to reach out to us.
Dr. Jeremy Phillips
Dr. Beth Sanborn
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