On April 26, Children’s Trust of South Carolina hosted a virtual discussion with the S.C. Department of Education about mental health support resources in K-12 schools.

The hour-long dialog centered on how schools and communities can best support students’ mental health, statewide trauma-informed training opportunities, and other efforts the department is working on to improve student well-being.

Moderated by Children’s Trust board member Edward Anderson, Ed.D., panelists were Sabrina Moore, Ph.D., director of student intervention services, and Suzanne Snyder, LPC, mental health program manager.

The group opened the discussion by addressing how mental health services have changed in the past 10 years.

Moore said she has seen mental health become less stigmatized.

As mental health support in schools becomes more integrated and standardized, she said she has seen a change in how school staff understands the root causes of mental illness and behavioral challenges.

Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with you?” Moore said there’s a collective shift to, “’What really has happened to this child?’ And how can we provide support to this child, based on his or her experiences?”’

This move from blaming to curiosity and compassion is the foundation of the trauma-informed training that the Children’s Trust offers school districts across the state through its partnership with SCDE.

Since February, Children’s Trust has trained representatives from school districts on adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs. This partnership helps schools recognize and address the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of children.

The trainings, offered at no cost, are funded by SCDE through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

The panel discussed that the ARPA funds received by the state department were also used to hire Snyder and other staff focused on mental health, including social-emotional learning program manager Sarah Gams.

Snyder, who helps coordinate the ACEs trainings, said there’s a robust mix of staff who attend, which is ideal because support staff—nurses, bus drivers, janitors, librarians and others—play unique and critical roles in students’ well-being.

“A dysregulated adult cannot regulate a dysregulated child,” Anderson, executive director of United Way’s OnTrack Greenville, said, remembering his first ACEs training.

To truly improve students’ mental health, the entire community must be involved.

“The key is for everyone to work as a team,” Snyder said. “Schools have mental health teams, but that just doesn’t include everybody.” She said it also takes the parents, pediatrician and other community members to “best treat the whole child.”

The panel also discussed efforts, including an anti-bullying summit, by the department to connect and hear directly from students. Additionally, Snyder reported that SCDE and the South Carolina Health and Human Services plan to conduct a statewide survey on school-based mental health services.

Watch the full recording of the discussion.

This event was a part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the statewide campaign to raise awareness about the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect.