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Experts cite lack of resources in helping kids with mental health issues

by Zhiyu Wang
May 07, 2013

Alison McKenna, a social worker in private practice for 10 years, is an ardent advocate of special-needs students to have access to education plans. And when resources are limited, teachers are being scapegoated for inability to “fixing children’s problems,” she said.

“The children are coming into the school, they have poverty, a lot of stress from their communities, teachers can’t be expected to fix all these problems; they don’t have the resources,” said McKenna. who heads McKenna Quality Therapeutic Services in Logan Square. “I think it’s important to think about the teaching conditions are the students’ learning conditions. The teacher’s need to be supported not scapegoated. “

DePaul’s graduate student Aaron Griffin also says he thinks resources are essential if people want to make a long-term impact on such a widespread issue such as poverty. Griffin is interning at a high school on Far South Side that has a high concentration of poverty.

“Even in the school that I’m at now, we can do as much as we can; we have definitely seen students do better.” Griffin said. ”But we have to restructure the spending in this society if we are really going put a dent into that long term. “

McKenna and Griffin were among more than 200 people who attended DePaul University’s forum, where experts discussed the correlation between poverty and mental health last week.

Erin Mason, associate professor of counseling at DePaul, said that students living in or are experiencing poverty are much more likely to face significant, unaddressed obstacles in classroom learning than their middle and upper income counterparts. Mason added that, most important, 85 percent of children in need of mental health services do not receive them.

Mason said despite the lack of resources, there are things that school counselors can do.

“I think the most important thing is to have the students teach you about what they are facing,” Mason said Thursday night. “Another thing I think is really important is to use in the people-first language.

“Instead of saying someone is poor, talk about someone who’s dealing with poverty. Instead of dealing someone who’s mentally ill, talk about a child who’s dealing with mental health issues. These are small things, but these are things that can make great impact.”

Patricia Rivera, executive director at Chicago HOPES for Kids, encouraged people to to spend time with kids in shelter and try support them academically and emotionally.

“The program I’m doing now works to tutor children who are in shelters so that they will not lose their educational gain while they are in the shelter situation,” Rivera said.

Rivera’s words didn’t resonate with Melissa Finley who’s in her sixth year teaching at Chicago Virtual Charter School on the West Side. Finley has worked with a lot of students who have struggled with poverty and homelessness over the years, she said.

“I don’t feel like there are a lot of solutions outside of what we’ve been doing,” Finley said.