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Report: All Madison elementary students should get mental health tests

Report: All Madison elementary students should get mental health tests

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The Madison School District should screen all elementary school students for mental health problems and develop school-based mental health clinics for older students, according to a district task force.

The Mental Health Task Force said in a report to the School Board on Monday that dwindling community resources, poor communication between service providers and school psychologists, and minority students not accessing mental health services to the same degree as their white peers are problems that need to be addressed.

“These are huge issues,” district chief of staff Steve Hartley said. “The president is talking about it. The governor is talking about it.”

The report comes as mental health has taken on greater prominence in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a $30 million increase for spending on mental health services in his 2013-15 budget.

The report includes seven recommendations of a mental health task force formed nearly two years ago by former superintendent Dan Nerad.

Other recommendations include training school staff to better identify students in need of mental health services and developing community support and funding for the district’s plan.

Scott Strong, one of the leaders of a task force that developed the report and executive director of Community Partnerships, which seeks to keep children with mental health challenges out of institutions, said school-based clinics would address some of the reasons certain students aren’t getting services, such as lack of transportation and parent perceptions about outpatient clinics.

“For our community and our teachers to understand how to best serve this population of kids will help serve them academically,” Strong said.

The task force included about 40 people, including parents; city, county and School District officials; and representatives from the nonprofit, health care and mental health sectors.

If the board adopts the recommendation, the district might add a universal mental health exam once or twice in elementary school, similar to a middle school test to detect trauma and a high school test for depression currently administered, student services director Nancy Yoder said.

The School District still is developing many of the details, such as which schools would have clinics and in which years elementary students would be screened, said Hartley, who took over a task force leadership role after Nerad left last year. The district plans to make more detailed recommendations to the School Board in May.

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