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City schools have already utilized new ‘crisis’ social workers, says chancellor

October 1, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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As the number of children and teens treated in emergency rooms for mental health emergencies climbs — and at least one New York pol has called for excusable mental health days — the city’s Department of Education is already making use of its new contingent of “crisis” counselors, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said Friday.

“As we have deepened our practices … we are seeing that the health of our school communities are getting better,” Carranza told reporters at a media roundtable, stressing that the DOE now has almost 100 emergency social workers at its disposal, which officials can deploy “as student needs arise.”

Less than a month into the new school year, they’ve already been utilized, he said.

“The second day of school we had a situation where a student was struck by a vehicle and was killed,” Carranza said. “The student was the son of a teacher who taught at this student’s elementary school, so all of the teachers had seen him grow up. The community was obviously devastated.”

Though the DOE could not confirm due to federal privacy laws, Carranza appeared to be talking about 10-year-old Enzo Farachio, who had just started the sixth grade at I.S. 240 when he was killed while waiting for a bus in Midwood on Tuesday, Sept. 10 (the fourth day of school). According to the Daily News, his mother is a second-grade teacher at P.S. 316, where Enzo was previously a student.

Related: Safety advocates to lead march from site of crash that killed 10-year-old

“What we were able to do was bring in these crisis social workers and counselors to help set up a system of grieving,” he went on, adding that the DOE was able to assign counselors to the student’s new and former schools, as well as to the schools that his former classmates went on to attend. “We were able to find out who those students were even though they dispersed.”

Though an “obviously tragic example,” Carranza said the situation highlighted the need for — and the benefits of — having such social workers available to city schools.

Councilmember Mark Treyger, a former educator who chairs the City Council’s Education Committee — and who has previously pushed for more social workers in schools — agreed, though he stressed the importance of long-term solutions.

“Students need more social and emotional supports,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle in a statement. “The council, with Speaker [Corey] Johnson’s leadership, was proud to join with advocates and students to make significant progress in this year’s budget towards prioritizing proactive therapeutic interventions over reactive punitive responses.”

In June, the southern Brooklyn politician wrote to Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio calling for a “significant investment” in social and emotional services for students. Specifically, he wanted 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.

At the end of July, Treyger announced funding in the city’s $93 billion budget for 285 full-time social workers, including 100 Bridging the Gap social workers, who serve schools with high concentrations of homeless students — and the 85 new “crisis” counselors, a DOE spokesperson confirmed Monday.

Those 85 — a part of the de Blasio administration’s billion-dollar ThriveNYC initiative (of which Treyger has been notably critical) — will be able to provide care in times of immediate emotional distress and help them receive long-term care if necessary, the rep said.

“As these programs roll out, I will look closely at data and continue to listen to students and school communities about how well these programs are working,” Treyger said, “[and] I’ll continue to hold the DOE accountable for how well it meets the social-emotional needs of our students.”

At the time of Treyger’s initial request, over 700 schools did not have a full-time social worker, and there were under 1,500 social workers serving the city’s 1.1 million students. By Tuesday, the DOE had not responded to a request for an updated estimate.

“All students that experience any type of trauma should have immediate access to emotional and social supports in our school system,” Treyger said.

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