Engaging families to address youth mental health

An October policy update from the National Association of State Boards of Education shares the importance of family engagement and empowerment as local educational agencies continue to address the youth mental health crisis.

In national polls, parents identify their children’s mental health as a top concern. As young people battle anxiety and depression, many parents feel unsure of how to help them.

While LEAs have received billions in pandemic relief, including funding to support student mental health, parents have often been overlooked allies, according to NASBE’s Associate Director of Student Wellness Celina Pierrottet and Associate Editor Joseph Hedger.

“When supported with information, classes, and ongoing school engagement opportunities, parents can better identify signs of mental distress in their children and ways to increase their well-being. By supporting programs that increase families’ preparedness and build their awareness of available resources and activities, state leaders can help families foster children’s mental health,” Pierrottet and Hedger write.

Twelve states, including California, as well as Washington D.C. require parent supports in schools and 22 others have policies encouraging parent supports such as family resource centers and family literacy and parenting skills programs that cover mental health literacy.

One example of a strategy LEAs can implement to connect parents to services is having school-based community health navigators to pair families with clinicians and health care providers and provide follow-up support and Medicaid information. Investing in community schools, which California has long done, and operating regional child opportunity zones, described as “full-service, school-linked centers where families can access education, health and social service programs, and supports and referrals to address barriers to student achievement” are other examples covered in the policy update.

Questions that state leaders and LEA officials may want to ask themselves include:

  • What resources are available to help parents and caregivers support their children’s wellness? How are these resources made available? Will they be easy for culturally diverse families to access and understand?
  • How can state agencies partner with health, education and parent communities to ensure students and families can access wraparound support services?
  • Does the state have a community schools model that promotes mental health services for students and families?

To aid in the effort, the U.S. Department of Education on Oct. 11 announced that California’s Parent Institute for Quality Education will receive $943,493 as one of 12 organizations awarded a total of $11.4 million in federal Statewide Family Engagement Centers program grants to improve and strengthen engagement amongst parents, families, caregivers and advocates.