Selected Essays

By Jennifer Kitson

As children/youth and families are experiencing more complex problems and are having increasing needs, the shortage of psychologists to meet the needs of children and schools in this country looms ahead. Recognizing the potential problems evident when shortages occur, school psychologists must carefully consider the most effective strategies for advance planning. The future of school psychology could be considered to be in jeopardy - with the anticipated shortages as well as current education and mental health funding issues. Conversely, appropriate foresight, planning and action could result in improved training and service delivery, and increased levels of school psychology service provision relative to service needs. The professional standards of practice and the quality of services should be maintained.

A number of issues must be addressed to assure a successful planning process for the future of school psychology. Options should be considered for comprehensive service delivery, recruitment of professionals to school psychology, training and practice standards, and funding for school psychology services.

Prioritization of the current educational and mental health needs of children in schools should be considered when identifying the services that school psychologists will provide. Consideration should be given to collaboration with other pupil services personnel. Identifying strategies for collaborating with community mental health, social service, and medical service agencies to close gaps and avoid duplication of services is critical. Blended or braided funding options should be explored. School psychologists will need to garner the support of federal, state and local policy makers, parents, and school administrators and staff to promote full service provision.

The practice of school psychology could be significantly impacted by federal and state legislation as well as by current initiatives related to such issues as the upcoming reauthorization of IDEA, safe and drug free schools, the implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and mental health parity. The current administration's position of "Leave No Child Behind" and the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health are but two examples of current government positions that could greatly impact funding mechanisms and practice of school psychology services. From the attention being given to issues related to discipline, behavior, and social/emotional needs of children that are barriers to learning, it is evident that there is a need for school based components which promote a full range of school psychology and mental health services emphasizing prevention, education and early intervention. It is critical that school psychology is responsive and acts proactively to ensure that school psychology services in schools are comprehensive, coordinated and accessible to all students and families. Services should include prevention, consultation, assessment, intervention, mental health care services, and research and planning. School psychologists should be committed to the provision of an integrated and coordinated model of service delivery related to meeting the educational and mental health needs of children.

The future of school psychology must continue to promote educationally and psychologically healthy environments for all children and youth, and should consider creative ways to meet the challenge. It is imperative that mental health practices continue to be incorporated into the provision of comprehensive school psychological services. Such services are critical to the development of effective interventions for students in need, in order to promote school success.

In an effort to effectively assist school psychologists with continued comprehensive service delivery, we must promote the need for comprehensive educational and mental health services, provide professional development opportunities related to consultation, assessment, intervention and mental health, collect and disseminate information on effective and evidence-based models of school psychology services and programs, provide information and training related to influencing public policy efforts, and recognize standards and guidelines for training, credentialing, practice and ethics.

The public policy arena is one avenue that school psychologists should explore, in an effort to influence the provision of effective, comprehensive school psychology services in the schools, to advocate for educational and mental health services to meet the needs of students. Because there has been a change in the political climate of this country, with Congress being committed to returning control over program design and funding distribution to the state and local levels of government, with educational performance and testing being tied to funding, and with federal government funds being cut in public sector programs, it is essential that school psychologists continue to expand public policy efforts in state and local public policy issues as well as methods for developing advocacy involvement. Training in public policy process and in strategies to develop state and local advocacy programs is crucial in order to effectively respond to public policy issues at the state and local levels.

As school psychologists utilize skills and become more active in the political processes that effect their schools and practice (with such activities as disseminating information related to current legislative initiatives, and communicating with public policy officials through visits, letters, and phone calls) they can advocate for effective policy and proactive results. By building a support network to create an effective program of public policy involvement, and through training and support, school psychologists will be prepared to participate in public policy efforts. Avenues should be developed for providing school psychologists with accurate and complete information regarding developments in local, state and federal educational and health policy through dissemination and information exchanges, such as websites, listservs, and professional publications. In addition, school psychologists should be encouraged to continue an emphasis on advocacy and coalition building with allied groups and other stakeholders to further impact public policy related to the provision of comprehensive educational and mental health services. Opportunities should be available to collect and distribute relevant research and effective programs related to best practices in educational and mental health service provision. Efforts should be planned to strengthen relationships with allied groups through jointly sponsored workshops and training, collaborative sharing of ideas and resources, and communication exchanges.

Recruitment of new school psychologists is imperative as many of those currently practicing reach retirement, before the shortage reaches a crisis level. Maintaining the training programs and recruiting representatives of diverse cultures and minorities should be of high priority. Recruiting students from undergraduate programs and development of peer mentoring programs could be beneficial. Training programs should consider ways to provide training to other related professionals for retooling, while maintaining the standards. Public awareness of the need for school psychology services, and data that demonstrate the effectiveness of such services, could bring greater awareness and interest in school psychology. Publicity such as the article in the Feb. 18, 2002 edition of U.S. News & World Reports, which identified school psychology as one of the top eight "secure track" professions in the United States could pique interest and recruitment efforts.

In conclusion, the future of school psychology is in flux. Appropriate planning and action should result in positive outcomes for children/youth in meeting their educational and mental health needs. Many opportunities are available for advocating the inclusion of effective, comprehensive school psychology services in the schools. The training and practice standards and the quality of services need not be compromised. Through the efforts discussed above, school psychologists should have the avenues available for providing a wide range of services, which appropriately match the needs of students in schools.

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Last updated at August 30, 2002 by Xiaojing Kou