Shawnee County school districts address mental health problems

SHAWNEE COUNTY (TOPEKA) — A new report addressing the mental health of children across the nation ranks Kansas 15th when it comes to addressing a child’s well-being.

The percentage of children under the age of 18 being hospitalized for mental health problems in Shawnee County has made a marked increase in the past year.

And school districts more than ever are starting to address those problems, starting with providing more services.

“More kids are struggling with mental health issues than we’ve ever seen before,” says Dr. Martin Stessman, Superintendent of Shawnee Heights USD 450.

Stessman, says his district was late in addressing the mental health needs to its students.

“Five years ago, or so we started to see more kids with some of their behaviors. More kids were seeing mental health professionals,” Stressman said.

But with 1-in-10 kids under 18 in Shawnee County needing help, they knew it was time to step in, and they aren’t the only district with the problem.

“The sad fact is that there are a lot of kids that have a double-whammy. They are pre-disposed for some mental health issues, but they also are in environments that make those conditions worse,” says Nancy Crago, Director of Community Based Services at the Family Service & Guidance Center.

Like poverty and living in single parent households.

Crago’s organization works with school districts across the county to pinpoint mental health issues in children, and works closely with the largest district in Shawnee County USD 501.

“I am seeing a lot more evidence of kids coming to school and they have experience some kind of trauma. So they have been exposed to violence either in their homes or in their neighborhoods,” Crago Says.

At Shawnee Heights two social workers have been added this year and they now have a psychologist at various grade levels.

Family Service & Guidance Center is also developing specific programs to help the Topeka district, and it’s already active in five schools.


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