Use school buildings to offer mental health, other services

By Kathreen Harrison | Jul 21, 2016

Maine has an opiate and heroin addiction crisis, and it’s impacting our children. Some of them are born addicted; others suffer the results of living with parents who are addicted.

As a teacher I am trained to help children develop intellectually, socially and emotionally. My fellow teachers and I work hard and try to do our jobs well. However, far too frequently we cannot really help the desperate children we serve. We are neither mental health nor social service practitioners.

As well as living with parents who are addicted to opiates and heroin, other children suffer in homes where domestic violence is recurrent, where parents are alcoholic, where parents are seriously depressed, in families where one or more parent is either in jail or dead, in homes where food insecurity prevails, or in families that have no home.

Usually we find that children with these difficult backgrounds suffer academically and experience social and emotional problems. Often they disrupt the learning environment of the school so that others have trouble learning. Far too frequently we read about these children in the newspapers as they grow up and experience trouble with the law.

It seems to me that children and families need much easier access to social service and mental health providers than they currently have. I can count so many children and families in recent years who should have received mental health or other services, but did not because the logistics of getting the care were too much for the family to handle. In the current climate, schools should have mental health practitioners on site so that children and their parents can be helped with the serious problems they experience. Schools are often the focal points of communities in Maine – let’s use them after school as locations for offering care.

Addiction, depression, poverty, violence and the woes associated with these are harmful to us all, starting with the individuals and families, and ending with society as a whole. As a society we tend to blame individuals who suffer – we say they should pick themselves up and solve their problems themselves. Unfortunately, most people who suffer in these ways cannot solve these problems alone and need help.

Maine has the oldest population in the nation and struggles economically. Our greatest resources are our children and our environment. For the good of us all, we need our children to grow up well educated, decide to stay in Maine, and contribute their talents to the Maine economy. In order for this to happen, we must be sure that all our children have access to the resources they need to thrive.

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