East Providence Rep. Kazarian sheds light on mental health issues

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PROVIDENCE — State Representative Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) has submitted two bills early in the 2014 session to address school security issues, pieces of legislation she also submitted last year in the wake of the  Newtown, Conn.

“Despite our country’s promise to work toward preventing future tragedies like the one in Connecticut, it seems all that work has been put aside and the mental health community’s pleas have been ignored,” Rep. Kazarian said. “I still hold the belief that prevention of these types of tragedies is possible. Our schools are in desperate need of more resources that will help students and families deal with a range of mental health and behavioral issues. Mental health issues have been pinpointed as the root cause for the devastating school atrocities and we need to do more to recognize these issues in our schools and help treat them.”

The first bill (2014-H 7218) would require all public schools in grades kindergarten through grade 12 to have at least one full-time certified school social worker for every 400 students, per last year’s recommendation from the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA). This year, SSWAA endorsed a new model which recommends one social worker for every 250 students. Representative Kazarian noted that it may be impossible for Rhode Island to adapt to that model with budgetary concerns across the state being so prevalent.

“We have to improve what we have to the best of our ability,” Rep. Kazarian said. “The 400-to-1 ratio was endorsed as recently as last year, and that still stands as a much more acceptable system than what we have. A lot of legislation that passes through state government is a compromise, and I think this is a reasonable one.”

The National Association of State Boards of Education notes that Rhode Island’s Board of Regents Regulations for Elementary & Secondary Education Governing the Education of Children with Disabilities only requires a school district with 2,500 students enrolled in public and non-public schools to employ one full-time social worker.

House cosponsors of the legislation, which has been referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, include fellow East Providence pol Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65).

The second bill (2014-H 7206) is a resolution asking for an increase in the state’s appropriation for community mental health centers across Rhode Island and appropriate outreach programs. Rep. Kazarian said the state needs both types of investments in order to provide adequate protection and support for students and society at large. Especially in the aftermath of Newtown, there is a renewed focus on mental health and how communities, states and the nation can attack related problems.

“The community mental health centers are the key to identifying issues and providing treatment,” she added. “Many of our nation’s leaders – including President Barack Obama – are calling for increased access to treatment and better outreach programs in both schools and our local communities. This focus on mental health treatment is not a complete solution to problems like Newtown and other highly visible issues in all our cities and towns, but it is necessary. We all have people in our lives who at certain times probably require some type of assistance. If these bills help them access what they need, it is a worthy cause.”

Among the bills co-sponsors in the House are Ms. Kazarian’s fellow East Providence representative Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65).

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