Gov. Kemp pushes for mental health, school safety in state plan

Gov. Kemp pushes for mental health, school safety in state plan
Cathy Evlakhov

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Mental Health Impacts a quarter of the children in all school systems.

Of all the students receiving mental heal services in our area, 85% of them are receiving those services from schools.

That said, the governor’s plan could only make these numbers increase in the right direction, by increasing staff to reach more students, say educators.

Nicole Patten (Source: WALB)
Nicole Patten (Source: WALB)

Governor Brian Kemp said he wants to increase school safety and the numbers of mental health professionals in schools with his plan for the state.

“I have no fear of it not going through,” said Nicole Patten, the program coordinator with Aspire Behavioral Health.

Patten expresses her support of the Governor’s proposal. Especially now, one year ago, 17 people were murdered in a school shooting.

“The Parkland shooting called a lot of attention to the struggles that our students are having and not only the students but the teachers,” she said.

Those struggles surrounding mental health.

J.D. Sumner (Source: WALB)
J.D. Sumner (Source: WALB)

Dougherty County School Spokesperson J. D. Sumner said it’s something his district has been watching for a while.

“Its that level of awareness that we are working to build among our staff and as leaders that we are thinking how can we best address from a preventative standpoint, and also from a security standpoint?” said Sumner.

Both Sumner and Patten agree there is a stigma about receiving mental health services in schools, but said it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Patten said an increased budget will help in several areas.

“Being able to do that increases their grades, it decreases their absences from school, it decreases the behavior referrals..."

Their numbers show a dramatic impact with their services, helping over 400 students in the last semester alone.

Sumner said he hopes the governor’s plan brings more awareness to the fact that mental health is still health.

“The number one thing we can do is just be aware. try and get into these kids life to the degree that we know when something is off,” he said.

Cathy Evlakhov (Source: WALB)
Cathy Evlakhov (Source: WALB)

There are 10 therapists from APEX working in 20 different schools across southwest Georgia counties.

If the budget is approved, schools could see the funding by the next school year. Mental health services in schools could also be given to parents of students here in Dougherty County.

School district officials tell us there are plans to introduce a center to meet the non-academic needs of students and their families.

Governor Kemp's plan designates money for both mental health and school safety improvements.

We spoke with parents on how they feel about the governors budget.

“I think they would feel safer knowing that they have someone that they can talk to and there would be more staff their available for them,” said Cathy Evlakhov, a parent.

Dougherty County School representatives said they are actively working with partners in the community to assure student safety and will be introducing more plans in the spring.

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