Schools are sending more kids to psychiatrists out of fears of campus violence, prompting concern from clinicians

In a collaboration between The Guardian and The Hechinger Report, writer Rebecca Redelmeier has this story on the increasing numbers of children sent by schools into psychiatric evaluations—and the alternative supports, including special education programs, that might have helped instead: 

“The 9-year-old had been drawing images of guns at school and pretending to point the weapons at other students. He’d become more withdrawn, and had stared angrily at a teacher. The principal suspended him for a week. Educators were unsure whether it was safe for him to return to school — and, if so, how best to support him.

So, as schools around the country are increasingly inclined to do amid heightened concern over school violence and threats, administrators sent the child to meet with a psychiatrist. There the child sat, in a chair a bit too big for his small frame, fidgeting as he listened to the psychiatrist over a video call. . . . 

The practice can keep students out of school for weeks or even months, and cast children into an already-overburdened youth mental health system that families must often navigate without any assistance from schools. Family advocates say that even sending a child to an emergency room for an evaluation can become a days-long ordeal.

Without clear policies, transparency and staff support for schools and clinicians, many experts say these outsourced evaluations can result in a cycle of removals that leave children in crisis and schools with a false sense of security. . . . 

No comprehensive national data exists about how often districts require such evaluations. But for many psychiatrists, the seemingly ever-spreading use of these evaluations without preventive measures or follow-up support for students is setting off alarm bells.”

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