Students with disabilities in a community face a mild number of challenges. In most instances, the uniqueness of the students affects both their social and academic performance. In contrast to other students in the school and community, setting students with disabilities requires constant supervision, monitoring, and assistance. However, data from past surveys and exercises indicates that this role is primarily left to the school counselors and staff, mainly the teachers. Students with disabilities have needs that can be addressed by the school counselor. At the same time, to fully assist the students and ease the challenge created by their unique mental condition, the attention of several shareholders is required. The shareholders include parents, community, teachers, school administration and the students. In fact, even simple challenges such as getting to the school, crossing streets, shopping for personal needs and participation in community or co-curricular activities take extra effort. Students with mental illnesses have needs beyond the scope of the school counselor that require the participation of numerous stakeholders including parents, community, the government, private governments, and health institutions.
The rationale for Choosing Mental Illness Students
The paper focuses on the needs of the mental illness students beyond the scope of the school counselor. The paper takes Berkeley County School as an area of interest. The focus is based on the discovery that the school counselor is solely responsible for caring for the psychological and physical health of the children beyond the home environment. Mental illness students represent a segment of the neediest persons in the community. The children face special challenges compared to adults having to balance their unique conditions, academic and social lives. Without proper and close attention and supervision, the students are likely to have difficult lives that reduce their social and academic achievements.
Mental illness students face special challenges beyond the scope of the school counselor. For example, parents with mentally challenged students have to drive them to school and pick them on time. However, due to hard financial situations, the majority of the parents have no personal cars to drive their children to school. Public transport systems are not an ideal idea for the parents who also have to choose between caring for their unique and needy children and work to provide financial security for them. Second, students with mental illnesses have special needs such as treatments and therapy sessions to help them cope with mental conditions. However, the majority of the parents are economically challenged and cannot afford to pay for the special treatment, therapy and other needs of their children. The paper focuses on the type of help provided by the government and the community to assist the students and also struggling parents.
Role of the School Counselor
School counselors are positioned to provide short-term and long-term clinical mental health interventions to improve the mental health of children. Effective evaluation, identification, and treatment of children with mental health challenges impact their well-being, productivity and social and academic performance (American School Counselor Association, 2005). The school counselor’s role expands past management of the student’s mental health in the school setting. The school counselor coordinates communication and cooperation between parents, teachers, school administration and the community to ease the challenge faced by the students. In the United States, more than 20% of children and adolescents suffer from simple to complex mental health challenges. The children mostly from middle and low-income families lack basic care and support services to ease the severity of their conditions. Mental health specialists have a role in educating stakeholders in the children’s academic and social lives depending on the extent of the problems. Health professionals, in particular, school counselors have a responsibility to take a lead role at their workplaces and through social activism to provide the students with a supportive environment (American School Counselor Association, 2005).
Two of the most critical shareholders for students with mental illnesses are the parents and the school administration (Astramovich, 2014). Students spend a large share of their time either at home with parents or in the school environment. School counselors must instigate a working relationship between the shareholders aimed at supporting the students’ needs. For example, parents have a responsibility to communicate to the school the special needs of their children. On the other hand, the school has a legal and moral obligation to provide infrastructure to support the needs of the students. In this case, constant communication between the school the counselor and the parents ensures that challenges facing the students are solved.
Third, the school counselor takes the role of an activist bent towards community sensitization and also resources pooling to cater to special needs children (Astramovich, 2014). Astramovich (2014) notes that the role of the school counselor has been diffused or expanded in theoretical understanding. Practically, the school counselor’s competencies involve management or leadership activities above their professional training (Astramovich, 2014). In such a way, community sensitization on mental health creates a supportive and understanding environment for the students.
Literature Review (Students with Mental Illnesses)
The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights that 20% of the children suffer from serious mental health challenges. The pediatricians state that the suffering and burden experienced by children with mental illnesses has become a national crisis as the situation has been neglected for a long time. Children with mental illnesses face cruel attitudes from the side of the community, school and even at home in the bosom of their families. In the school environment, students with disabilities are susceptible to bullying, violence, and lack of infrastructure to cater for their special needs (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014).
The article highlights that there is a direct correlation between mental health disorders and high rates of juvenile incarcerations, family dysfunctions, drug abuse, suicides, and school drops. A 2001 Surgeons General report highlights that out of the 20% of children with mental health challenges, 11% have less than serious functional impairment. 5% of children have an extreme functional impairment. Extreme functional impairment means that the children cannot perform simple activities such as go to school, read, play, socialize, make requests, express their feelings or explore talents. Therefore, students with extreme functional impairment having learning disabilities must be positioned in an environment that supports their special learning needs (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014).
The delays in lending support further deteriorate the mental health conditions of their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights that lack of financial power and insufficient health insurance cover contribute significantly to delays to seek help. Additional barriers to treatment of children with mental illnesses include fear of stigma, lack of transportation and the shortage of professionals dealing with children with mental health needs such as counselors (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014).
Children and adolescents with mental illnesses who were not treated from an early stage have serious and irreversible health issues as adults. The delay seriously limits their productivity and achievements as adults (Wu et al, 2006). The earliest signs of distress for children include distress at home and school, low or zero social interactions, behavior problems and poor academic performance. Wu (2006) highlights that the key to helping children with mental challenges consist of partnerships. The partnerships include health professionals, community members, parents, school staff and administrators, and government and private donors.
Vision and Mission of School Counselor
The mission of the survey was to find external challenges facing the students with mental illnesses outside the school environment. The aim is to define factors outside the scope of the school counselor affecting needy students, in this case, students with mental illnesses. The vision is to unite all stakeholders in education and health institutions to improve the experiences of students with disabilities.
Elements of Plan
The survey involves three data collection methods that are interviews, observations, and questionnaires. The research subjects include parents, teaching staff, health professionals, community members, and finally, students with mental illnesses. The research method would be used interchangeably. Interviews are to be open-ended and would contain general questions.
1. What are the special challenges faced by students with disabilities in the community?
2. What can be done to improve the experiences of students with mental illnesses?
3. Who do you think should take a lead role in assisting students with mental illnesses?
4. What challenges do you face based on your condition? (Students with mental illnesses only).
The actualization of the Plan (Collaboration with Stakeholders)
The plan success is dependent on the school counselor’s ability to bring together all stakeholders in education, healthcare, and public. The plan would be actualized by sensitizing the public to create a large awareness of the needs of students with disabilities. Community and political leaders would also play a role in meeting the objective as they have the power to influence legislation.
The survey of Berkeley County included the participation of students with mental illnesses, parents, families, teachers, school administrators, health professionals, and community members faced serious challenges. The majority of the data came from parents of children and adolescents with mental health illnesses. Students with mental health illnesses also provided substantial data mainly by describing their experiences and thoughts for improvement.
The data gathering process was accomplished through the use of questionnaires, interviews, and observations. The data gathering process was oriented to the main parents of children with mental illnesses, and also health professionals focused on mental health management. The narrow model enabled the recording of filtered and accurate data that reflected the needs of the community.
Parents or guardians of children and adolescents with mental illnesses expounded on several areas challenging the management of their children’s conditions. The majority of the parents highlighted extreme difficulty getting their children to adopt and live successfully with their conditions. The parents noted that they were constantly worried about their children when they were out of sight or control areas. Parents of children with serious functional impairment highlighted that their children require constant support and full-time monitoring. Concerns raised by the parents included cases of bullying by community members and a lack of understanding of their children’s conditions by community members. The parents noted that their children have special behavior traits that may appear odd in public. One of the parents noted that some parents prevented their children from playing with her mentally ill child thus isolating the child. The parents expressed concern that the community had a tendency to treat their children as social outcasts. The victimization led to the rise of other conditions such as social anxiety disorders. Overall, it affected the ability of the children to contribute and gain to their environments.
The testimonies by the parents highlighted that there was a need for constant community sensitization programs. The programs would reduce the negativity and social misunderstanding of mental illnesses. Sensitizations would also work to reduce the stigmatization of children with mental illnesses.
Second, the majority of families with children suffering from mental illnesses were financially challenged. A few of the families had no permanent residences and had to move constantly. The movement disconnected their children from treatment programs, friends, school and the environment in general. The children had to start afresh treatments every time their parents moved due to employment changes. Overall, the parents expressed concern that the constant movement and change of treatment options had a negative impact on their children. Change of environment including schools is catastrophic for children with mental illnesses. The children or students have functional impairments that complicate simple interactions such as social interactions, making friends and environmental adaptations. The parents noted that they had to avoid unstable neighborhoods or neighborhoods with high crime levels due to their children increasing their live cost.
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Third, as the majority of the parents were financially challenged, the parents could not afford the basic needs of their children including transport to school, treatment and professional care such as nurses trained to assist children with mental illnesses. The working parents could not live the children in normal children’s care centers. The care centers lacked the technical support and theoretical understanding of mental illnesses. Therefore, the parents felt that the children would be unsafe in such environments. Children with serious mental impairments could not take the school bus or public transport systems to school. The parents had to drive their children to school and pick them in the afternoon, which creates a challenge as most of the parents were employed and had to balance between special needs of their children and work. Some of the parents had neither permanent homes nor a car, in particular, those in the low-income segment. The parents had to work extra hard to ensure their children’s special needs were met. However, the majority could not afford the treatment and special education needs of the children. This explains the delayed and low educational achievements for children with mental illnesses.
Finally, community infrastructure including libraries and playgrounds were not equipped to meet the needs of mentally challenged students. The disparities in resource distribution mainly by state and local government affected the ability of the children to benefit equally from their environment compared to other children.
All these challenges were outside the scope of the school counselor, or the school counselor had limited resources and the ability to assist the students in these areas.
Support Provided to Mental Illness Groups in Berkeley County
Berkeley County has several programs targeted at mental illness patients including children and adolescents. The support programs put the school counselor at the center and recognize the school counselor as the leader in mental health programs. Data from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health highlights that the state is committed to the management of mental illness. In Berkeley, the Berkeley Community Mental Health Center is a government-run organization committed to assisting all patients with mental illness challenges. The center provides mental health care utilizing a skilled staff comprising of nurses, psychiatrists, and counselors. Priorities include children and adolescents suffering from mental health illnesses (Berkeley Community Mental Health Center).
Berkeley County has several other organizations aimed at assisting children and adolescents with medical health challenges including the Red Cross. The South Carolina Department of Social Services seeks to provide families and children with diverse challenges with the basic help they need the most. The services of the institution include screenings, employment planning, placement classes, monthly stipends, child support services, childcare and transportation, relocation services and vocational education. Overall, the institution empowers parents to gain financial stability and care for their children. The service is not directly aimed at parents of children with mental illnesses.
Barriers in Research and Site
Students with mental health challenges face several environmental barriers, due to which the school counselors have resources to provide assistance. A major research barrier is the lack of studies or research aimed at understanding mental health dynamics. For example, there is little research that explains factors that lead to deteriorating mental health in children and adolescents. As noted in the research, parents from the low-income segment cannot afford to meet the special needs of their children. Therefore, poverty is an unexplored mental illness factor in children and adolescents. School counselors seeking to assist the students may find the lack of past ground research a barrier towards understanding the external challenges.
Second, the majority of the parents and health professionals are unwilling to share personal and students’ data. The majority of the parents do not admit that their children have mental illness due to the fear of social victimization. The parents also do not admit that they have financial challenges and thus do not seek the necessary support. The delays cause the mental illnesses of children to deteriorate as they advance to adulthood. As a result, the failure to seek assistance leads to the lack of data needed to pass legislation to provide resources to help the children and families.
Data from the research indicates that mentally challenged students face several difficulties outside the scope of the school counselor. The school counselor may not be able to balance school needs and support the students outside the school environment. Partnerships and networks between health and education professionals, government agencies, and private donors are keys to bridging the gap.
School counselors should take an active role and attract shareholders including parents, schools, government agencies, local leaders (political and religious) and private donors. The problems faced by students with disabilities are social and indicate that society is inconsiderate of the special needs of the minority few of its members. Bringing together all shareholders requires tapping into platforms held by activist groups and community leaders. The shareholders hold vast resources including financial and professional ones that are needed to create a fair environment for challenged students and families. For example, companies must support the needy people in the community as part of Corporate Social Responsibility. The government has an obligation to provide health funding to ensure that citizens have quality housing and education.
In addition, the school counselor must tap into the partnership networks to sensitize the community on mental illnesses and prevent victimization of children with mental illnesses and their families. Children and adolescents are treated as social outcasts by society. Isolation further deteriorates their condition as they cannot seek nor receive assistance.
Limits to Interventions
The interventions are long-term, and the benefits may not be available to children with mental illnesses immediately. The success of the program depends on the reaction of various stakeholders engaged.
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Students with mental health challenges have special or unique needs outside the scope of the school counselor. School counselor’s primary responsibility involves the management of psychological health and academic performance in schools. Counselors achieve this role by cooperation with school management and parents. However, counselors are forced to play an advanced role where they must explore factors outside their jurisdiction and responsibility affecting their students’ mental health. Financial difficulties affect the quality of care and treatment options available to mentally challenged students. However, School Counselors do not have the resources to assist such needy students. The underserving and minority group’s special needs are also neglected by the community, and the government further deteriorates their status. School counselors can assist the needy minority by creating partnerships with various stakeholders. Pooling resources from the government, parents, communities and private commerce organizations are crucial for addressing the shortages. Sensitizing community leaders and members will also support legislation that seeks to create the infrastructure needed by children with special conditions.
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