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Treyger says ThriveNYC isn’t cutting it, pushes for more emotional support in schools

“Our children are not in need of consultants.”

June 5, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick

Students need emotional support – not consultants, according to one southern Brooklyn lawmaker who penned a letter this week to city officials demanding a substantial increase in funding for mental health services in schools.

He then slammed the de Blasio administration’s billion-dollar ThriveNYC initiative in an exclusive interview with the Brooklyn Eagle.

Councilmember Mark Treyger, a former educator and current chair of the council’s education committee, wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Monday calling for a “significant investment” in social and emotional services for students. Specifically, the Coney Island official wants more social workers and guidance counselors, as well as the establishment of a mental health continuum to provide direct care to students with advanced behavioral needs.

Speaking with the Eagle about the letter, Treyger pointed to the city’s $1.2 billion investment in First Lady Chirlaine McCray’s ThriveNYC initiative – a program, he said, that sounds great on paper but provides no tangible support to students.

McCray stood before the City Council in March to defend the program, which has recently come under fire for alleged mismanagement (City Comptroller Scott Stringer recently said he’s having trouble discerning what ThriveNYC even is).

Treyger said he asked two questions: “Are [ThriveNYC employees] licensed social workers? Can they provide direct care for students?” he recounted. “The answer I received was ‘No, they are not,’ and ‘No, they cannot.’”

What he was told ThriveNYC can do is connect schools to workshops and relevant mental health training programs, and students to similar resources, but, Treyger said, “what principals are asking for – and what these schools need – are licensed personnel.”

There are more than 1,100,000 students enrolled in city public schools, but numbers provided to the City Council by the Department of Education show that there are only 1,335 social workers, 2,958 guidance counselors and 560 school psychologists. Furthermore, Treyger said, there are more than 200 schools without a full-time guidance counselor – and 700 without a social worker.

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Meanwhile, there are more than 5,500 School Safety Agents (NYPD-hired security) – more than the total of all social workers, guidance counselors and school psychologists combined.

“Mental health is just as important,” Treyger said. “And so is direct care.”

When contacted for comment, ThriveNYC Spokesperson Marcy Miranda countered that, through the initiative, the ratio of guidance counselors and social workers per student has improved — from one to every 260 in 2014-15 to one to every 240 in 2017-18.

The total number of guidance counselors and DOE-employed social workers in schools has increased by 7.3 percent, she added, including 176 social workers and guidance counselors hired during the 2017-18 school year.

“One of ThriveNYC’s key investments has been in new programs that ensure every student from pre-K to 12th grade has access to mental health clinicians, either in school or in the community. All of these new programs have been effective in increasing access to mental health support in different ways – the Mental Health Consultants Program not only facilitates connections to care for individual students in need, but also works with school leadership to strengthen school-wide approaches to mental health,” Miranda said. “This work will continue and the Health Department, the Department of Education and ThriveNYC are actively planning how to enhance access to clinical care for students.”

When asked to clarify whether or not this means ThriveNYC offers direct care to students, Miranda said that two of the initiatives in the program provide care for students (the School Mental Health Prevention and Intervention Program and the Community School Mental Health Program). The School Mental Health Consultant Program does not.

The School Mental Health Prevention and Intervention Program, she said, brings in mental health “managers” to assess the needs of students, after which community health providers are contracted to provide on-site services. Through the Community School Mental Health Program, the DOE contracts with community mental health providers to assess the mental health needs of 128 community schools and provide on-site mental health services.

Treyger’s letter comes just days after a lawsuit was filed by the parents of a Bronx teen who died by suicide after she was allegedly bullied into performing sex acts on two boys at school.

Nelly Vizcarrondo and Heribertos Rios are suing the city and the DOE, claiming that the death of their daughter, 16-year-old Mya Vizcarrondo, a student at Harry Truman High School, could have been prevented.

“Our children are not in need of consultants,” Treyger said. “They’re in need of licensed, credentialed social workers, guidance counselors and psychiatrists who can best meet their needs.

“There’s no excuse. The money is there and so is the need.”

Correction (June 6) — An earlier version of this article included the wrong ratio of guidance counselors and social workers per student in the 2017-18 school year. The Eagle was provided incorrect data that ThriveNYC has attributed to a typo. The Eagle regrets this error. 

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