Just as they have throughout history, young people are working hard to make the world a better place—leading the movement to fight climate change, building pressure to enact common-sense gun reform, and so much more.
But as they’re fighting to create the world we want to see, the world we at Ben & Jerry’s have always believed in, they’re also suffering from increasing levels of stress, anxiety, fear, and depression. One out of five American children experiences mental illness, but 80% of them won’t get the help they need. One big reason why: Schools are hiring police and security officers instead of mental health professionals.
This year, Florida legislators have the chance to increase education funding and ensure that more mental-health professionals are hired to support students in their schools. We hope you’ll join us in demanding that Florida lawmakers, and their counterparts all over the country, support young people. Here are some of the many reasons why we should all push to have more counselors in schools.
1. It’s time to invest in services that truly make our kids safer
Despite the fact that many school districts continue to pour money into hiring police and security, there is no evidence that this makes kids safer. In fact, for students of color, the presence of police actually makes them less safe.
Black students are more likely to attend schools with police than white students, which helps explain why Black students are arrested 3 times more often than white students. And while Black and Latinx students make up only 40% of the U.S. public school population, they account for 58% of school arrests. Isn’t it finally time to shut off the school-to-prison pipeline?
When students of color have early interactions with the criminal justice system, they are much more likely to be ensnared in that system throughout their lives. If schools had more counselors on staff, there would be more support and fewer arrests, leading to healthier outcomes for all students.
2. Young people in America are experiencing a mental-health crisis
This is a serious situation. Studies have produced some very troubling statistics:
• The suicide rate among children ages 10 to 17 has increased by 70% between 2006 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
• Nearly 35 million children have experienced at least one event that could lead to childhood trauma. (About 72% of children will have experienced at least one traumatic event before the age of 18.)
Students carry all this with them when they come to school, which is a big reason why they are 21 times more likely to seek help from a professional at school than they are anywhere else. But what happens if there are no professionals there? Or if there aren’t enough? (1.6 million kids attend a school that has a police officer but no counselor.) Police and security officers are not trained mental health professionals—in fact, only 12 states require special training for officers assigned to schools.
3. Mental health professionals really help students
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student to school counselor ratio of 250:1… and there are only three states in the country that meet the recommendation. The national average is twice that (Florida’s is also right around 500:1—and rising).
Now, imagine trying to remember the names and personal details of 500 people who are depending on you to help them through some of the most challenging moments of their lives. Not so easy.
Research shows that having more counselors per student leads to a decrease in disciplinary problems at school, as well as an increase in academic achievement. If what we want is for students to feel safe and secure and go on to achieve success, then the answer is obvious: We need to hire more mental-health professionals for our schools.
This past summer and fall we worked with our partners, Advancement Project National Office and Power U, to convince the Miami-Dade school board to invest in school counselors. And guess what? It paid off! The board voted to increase the number of mental health professionals from 30 to 55. That was a huge victory for Miami-Dade students, and it shows that when we stand together and demand change, change will come.
That’s why we’re asking for your support today. If you live in Florida, contact your legislator and tell them why you want them to vote for an increase in school funding. If you live in any of the other 46 states with a student to counselor ratio that’s way too high, then join Advancement Project National Office in telling your governor to support common sense solutions, not more police and armed teachers. Together we’ll make sure young people get the support they deserve.