As the pandemic wades on, students and teachers are faced with the routine challenges of school while also the added layers of trauma and change both in their classrooms and at home. The Journal of Pediatrics recently released estimates that 140,000 children in the U.S had lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 by the start of school this year. The Atlantic says it’s closer to 170,000, and more likely for children of color to have experienced a loss. The needs of students extend beyond academics and unfinished learning; students need non-academic multi-tiered systems of support. 

The U.S. Department of Education has released a new report as part of the Roadmap to Recovery: “Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs.” It is similar to the report on strategies for addressing interrupted learning by pointing to real-world examples from states and districts across the country that have been successful in supporting and scaling SEL and mental health services for students and families. 

Per Whiteboard Advisor’s review of state ESSER plans, every state references SEL and/or mental health, and nearly 40 states cite SEL and mental health as one of their top priorities. 

It is also a high priority across district planning for use of ESSER funds:  

  • Philadelphia City District : $150M to support social emotional learning by expanding social services – especially to schools most in need — adding counselors, and providing professional development. 
  • Prince William County, VA: $49M of ESSER III funds towards academic and non-academic needs including staff for mental health, resources for SEL, and professional learning to support student mental wellness
  • Atlanta, GA: $40M to maintain and expand student services including additional social workers and school psychologists, as well as piloting a behavioral universal screener to identify students in need. 

This new resource from ED articulates seven challenges and seven recommendations for states and districts to consider. It reiterates the importance of non-academic needs in students’ return to school and recovery from the pandemic.

Rising mental health needs and disparities among children and student groupsPrioritize wellness for each and every child, student, educator, and provider
Perceived stigma is a barrier to accessEnhance mental health literacy and reduce stigma and other barriers to access
Ineffective implementation of practicesImplement continuum of evidence-based prevention practices
Fragmented delivery systemsEstablish an integrated framework of educational, social, and emotional, and behavioral-health support for all
Policy and funding gapsLeverage policy and funding
Gaps in professional development and supportEnhance workforce capacity
Lack of access to usable data to guide implementation decisionsUse data for decision making to promote equitable implementation and outcomes