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The Washington Post: The kids are not okay, and D.C. schools stand to lose crucial therapists

April 19, 2023

Briana D'Accurzio, a mental health therapist, meets with a student at a D.C. school.

In a piece written during the height of the DC 2024 budget oversight season, Washington Post reporter Theresa Vargas dives into the lack of funding for behavioral health clinicians in DC schools: Students and advocates have expressed concern while pleading with lawmakers to invest more, despite budget cuts, toward mental health services in schools.

In recent weeks, advocates, educators and students have testified in front of city lawmakers, pleading with them to add $3.45 million to the proposed budget to sufficiently fund the community-based organizations that place mental health clinicians in schools across the city. The ask is small compared with the cost of failing those children, but it comes at a time when the city is looking to slash spending.

“In a year of tough choices, we urge you to continue to prioritize addressing the youth mental health crisis,” Judith Sandalow, the executive director of Children’s Law Center, said in testimony delivered at a budget hearing on Friday. “Unless there is sufficient funding to allow [community-based organizations] to continue to offer competitive pay, incentives and professional support to clinicians, the entire program is at risk.”

As proof of the need, Sandalow cited the findings of a 2021 DC Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Some of the data she noted: 28 percent of middle school students have seriously thought about killing themselves, about 12 percent of middle and high school students have taken prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription, and more than 19 percent of middle school students and more than 25 percent of high school students reported that their mental health was “not good” most of the time or always.

Photo credit: Allyson Boucher via The Washington Post

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Although tens of thousands of DC children have behavioral health needs, only a fraction of them actually receive timely supports and services. At Children’s Law Center, we know that many of the children we work with – including children in the foster care system or receiving special education services – only need our help because their needs have gone unaddressed.

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