SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today released the results of a statewide landscape scan that revealed that Illinois school districts are well on their way toward phasing in universal mental health screening for students. The report includes four recommendations to close gaps in access to mental health screening and to ensure districts of all different sizes and capacities have the tools they need to successfully implement mental health screening for all students.
Similar to physical, dental, and vision screeners, mental health screeners aim to detect social-emotional and behavioral concerns early, so schools can connect students to the appropriate services and interventions before concerns become a crisis.
“Universal mental health screening can save children’s lives by identifying the symptoms of depression, substance use disorders, and suicidal ideation before students reach the point of crisis,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders. “In the midst of a nationwide youth mental health crisis, I am proud to see so many Illinois school districts leading the way toward implementing life-saving universal mental health screening of students. With additional guidance and a thoughtful, intentional plan, we can help all districts close gaps in access to universal mental health screening.”
“Our country is facing a youth mental health crisis, and I am proud of the work we have done in Illinois to leverage federal pandemic relief funds to provide crucial supports for school districts, and building on that by identifying additional strategies to expand access to behavioral health services for our youth,” said State Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago). “Universal mental health screening for all K-12 students is a crucial step to ensure our schools can serve as social and emotional supports for their communities, empowering students so they focus on succeeding academically and outside of school.”
“As a former social worker, I saw firsthand how vital it is to prioritize students’ mental health as much as their physical health. Mental health screenings will serve as an essential component to support children through the hardships of life and come out stronger,” said State Senator Karina Villa (D-West Chicago). “The phased approach to implementing mental health screenings will help ensure school districts are well-equipped to provide students with the best support and care.”
The landscape scan revealed that 71% of school districts already administer some form of screening that evaluates students’ mental, behavioral or social-emotional health. Participants, including administrators, teachers, students, and mental health practitioners, voiced the prevalence of unmet mental health needs among students and the value of screeners to identify students in need of services and intervention, especially when students have internalizing symptoms that do not manifest in obvious behavioral issues.
However, the landscape scan also revealed that districts are at differing levels of implementation of screening activities across the state. Small districts are much less likely to implement universal mental health screening than large and mid-size districts. Districts also use a variety of different screening tools and do not always screen all students in all grades every year.
The landscape scan revealed the specific challenges facing districts in implementing a universal mental health screening program. The most common barrier identified by school districts with no screening activities was a lack of qualified personnel, followed by a lack of access to mental health services and interventions and a lack of financial resources.
The landscape scan report includes four recommendations that recognize districts’ varying capacities and seek to address the most common barriers to implementing universal mental health screening:
Illinois should undertake a phased approach to universal mental health screening of all K-12 students enrolled in public school districts. Universal mental health screening of all K-12 students means mental health screening of every student in every grade enrolled in a school district each year.
ISBE, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, should compile and organize resources to support school districts in improving the mental health culture and climate in schools and reducing the stigma related to screening, referral, and participation in mental health services.
ISBE, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, should release guidance about (1) mental health screening tools available for school districts to use with students and (2) associated training for school personnel.
ISBE should oversee a process of model policy development with relevant stakeholders that supports school districts in implementing universal mental health screening of students.
Governor JB Pritzker launched the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative in February 2022. The initiative’s Blueprint for Transformation recommends universal mental and behavioral health screening in education and pediatrics as one of 12 critical strategies to redesign the delivery of behavioral health services for children and adolescents in Illinois, amidst a nationwide youth mental health crisis.
“The Transformation Initiative is grateful for ISBE’s leadership in learning from school personnel, parents and youth across the state about their experiences, hopes and expectations for universal mental health screening,” said Dr. Dana Weiner, Chief Officer for Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation. “As we continue to work toward full implementation of the Blueprint, we are creating new pathways for youth to receive services that can address needs identified through screening.”
Public Act 103-0546 required ISBE to conduct a landscape scan to better understand school districts’ current practices regarding mental and behavioral health screening of students. ISBE partnered with the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation team, Chapin Hall, and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to administer the required landscape scan via an online feedback form distributed to all school districts and in-person and virtual listening sessions that were open to school personnel, parents/guardians, community members, and students.
ISBE has filed the report with the Governor and General Assembly.