Do you think COVID is over? Children’s mental distress says otherwise.

This week, at several schools across HISD, the school district hosted turkey giveaways, fall festivals, and delivered coordinated meals to families with the help of community partners including the Houston Food Bank.

These events are more than just a holiday cheer, they are part of an important approach to education that envisions schools as community centers, where parents can come for everything from health care to school supplies. Such “holistic” support has existed for years thanks to a campus system that relies in large part on community organizations. Get a dental check up here, backpacks full of school essentials there.

These types of support are essential as we enter a “post-pandemic” world where, for many, the toll of the pandemic is still very much there. As resilient as the kids are, they’ve been through countless stresses, and with reports of growing mental health crises and increased needs across campus, it’s clear the kids are not doing well. State lawmakers said they are prioritizing mental health for the next cycle and with a large surplus in hand, they will have a great chance of making good on that promise.
A series of new reports on student needs from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research’s Houston Education Research Consortium, released this month, found that students, staff and parents all expressed a need for more mental health support. Children as young as third grade said they struggled with negative emotions and feared for friends, family, and school. At some universities, the percentage of young students with high psychological stress was as high as 85 percent, according to the report.
In collaboration with the Houston Charter School District, the research group conducted a similar survey in 2019 to ask a set of questions about non-academic challenges.

“This time mental health really stood out as the primary challenge,” said Corey Straub, co-director of HISD Research and co-author of the reports along with Kamila Cigarua-Kennedy, research analyst at HERC.
This data confirms what has worried many since the early days of the pandemic, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a nationwide spike in emergency room visits among children seeking mental health care. With Texas ranking lowest in state per capita spending on mental health care, children have been largely left to shoulder the burden of unprecedented stress with little support.
Although HERC surveys were conducted over several months during the 2021-2022 school year, it appears that the need has not gone away.
Just this month, the Chronicle reported on a “spiking number of emergency room visits” at Texas Children’s Hospital where “for the first time, there were more referrals to behavioral healthcare services than to any other subspecialty.”
The surveys also inquired about physical health and basic needs, including food, clothing, household supplies, and hygiene. Just under a fifth of students in grades three through six said they often or always did not get enough to eat. Meanwhile, nearly a fifth of parents report having difficulty paying rent or mortgage, providing transportation and buying food. All of these needs are interrelated and addressing them together can have enormous benefits.
For several years, the District’s Department of Universal Services has tried to provide important services, including food, clothing, and dental and vision exams, to schools. The department benefited from epidemic-era funding. The Campus Universal Services Fund has allocated nearly $9.5 million in relief for elementary and secondary schools for the current school year.

But, as anyone familiar with the budget shortfalls facing the region knows, these are only temporary resources and many inclusive services depend on philanthropy from partner organizations and collaborations with nonprofits like communities in schools. And while the pandemic has certainly exacerbated the need for such comprehensive services, that need was pre-existing and will likely continue after the money runs out, especially as families across Houston face a similar dwindling in federal pandemic aid for rent and necessities. others that remained the same. Many of them are afloat.
Meanwhile, the state has promised to double its rather abysmal spending on mental health after the Uvalde massacre. But as of now, there is no particular number behind this pledge. Gov. Greg Abbott approved a $10 million after-fire for telehealth and treatment for at-risk children, according to the Texas Tribune, but in light of the $4.4 billion Lone Star escalating operation, it’s clear he’s putting a priority on political maximization along the border.
Let’s hope lawmakers take the crisis facing Texas kids more seriously, as Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan seemed to do when he The proposed $100 million In new funding for children’s mental health this summer in a letter to Lt. Dan Patrick ahead of the school year. Although this proposal was a response to the fatal shooting, the shock of the epidemic should also be regarded as an urgent crisis by the state.

There are few signs of an epidemic left. One of the last of those visible here in Houston can be seen on the south side of the four-lane Quitman Bridge over I-45 that connects Highlands to the nearby north side. There, the COVID-19 memorial fence features a small group of yellow streamers, hearts, and ribbons clinging to chain-link metal, the downtown skyline in the distance. The toll many of us have suffered throughout the pandemic is far from over. While some softened, others persisted. More than 25,600 Texan children have lost a caregiver due to the pandemic, the Texas Children’s Defense Fund estimates.
In January, when the next Texas legislature meets, they must make it clear where their priorities lie, and for the sake of our children, they must be in the classroom.

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