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Survey: Parents say kids lack mental health services in Monroe County schools

Sara Taylor is a parent and the Mental Health Project Director of the BIPOC|PEEEEK Parent mental health project.

The Children’s Agenda is calling for robust solutions to what they say is a mental health crisis among children and teens – including improving access to care in schools.

The organization recently polled 600 parents and found that their top concerns included a lack of school-based services that address students’ social, health, and disability needs.

Half of the city of Rochester parents surveyed, said they do not feel listened to by school administrators, compared to 31% of the suburban parents polled.

Parent Tianna Johnson said even though her son has Asperger's syndrome, he didn’t get a diagnosis until he was in 9th grade. By then, in many ways, it was too late, she added.

“He kind of slipped through the cracks,” Johnson said. “So, when COVID hit, it just kind of broke a lot of things down. We couldn't get mental health support. He was getting counseling in school but couldn't get that anymore because school had closed. And then out in the community is those long wait times.”

Johnson said while her son was waiting for care, he had multiple mental health crises and episodes of suicidal ideation. By the time a counselor saw him, the appointments were too far apart to be helpful.

He graduated from the Greece School District, but he wasn’t thriving in school.

“I'm proud of that, that he endured and pushed right on through. But it was just frustrating when you're advocating and you're pushing, and you're just not being taken seriously.

Now that her son is in his early 20s, it’s even harder to find mental health support for him, Johnson said.

Larry Marx, chief executive officer of the Children’s Agenda, said mental health services need to be accessible financially and physically to meet people where they are at.

“The facts are that we have a crisis of youth mental health needs in our community that parents very readily identify,” Marx said.

He said waitlist times are also costing families crucial opportunities to intervene before a crisis.

That’s what parent Sara Taylor is going through with her daughter.

Nearly 90 percent of the parents polled by The Children’s Agenda said they have dealt with multiple barriers to getting mental health services for their children.

In Taylor’s case, her daughter is currently stuck in a residential treatment center because there isn’t a spot at a school that is equipped to assist students like her. Her daughter has been ready to go home since December, but she can’t do so until a spot becomes available.

“We've been working on a transition plan, trying to find a school that is appropriate,” Taylor said. “It's very frustrating for her that she has made tremendous progress. And for me, as a parent, it's very overwhelming.”

Taylor says her daughter had been through multiple “traumatizing” mental health arrests before she was placed in residential treatment three years ago.

“The community has made some progress here since the horrific incident with Daniel Prude,” she said. “But I have been a parent that has experienced multiple mental hygiene arrests in my home, and the range of experiences that we've had have been different.”

“We've had police officers that were calm and talked to her like a child and then other incidences where she was treated like a criminal," She added. "I don't believe police officers need to respond to mental health crises.”

Taylor said children, parents, and caregivers need to advocate for local and state policies that would expand mental health services that they need for their families.

“The mental health system, we need it transformed from every level, as a public safety level, we need it transformed from an educational level, from a community-based prevention, from inpatient psychiatric care, we need a total transformation.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.