No Break for Mental Health Support – May 24, 2024



I’m overwhelmed…I’m worried…I’m afraid…I’m alone.

These heartbreaking words are uttered far too often by teenagers and younger children these days and we heard them a lot at a Children First mental health community conversation in Norristown.

Pennsylvania kids from all walks of life suffer from nearly the same rates of general anxiety and depression, as well as more intensive issues of suicidal thoughts. Four out of ten PA students report feeling sad or depressed most of the time; 16% planned their suicide and 12% attempted suicide.

Parents told us they can see their child suffering but feel like they don’t have ways to help. Not only are teenagers more likely to confide in their friends than their parents, but most parents don’t have the skills to address a mental health problem. That’s why Children First is building statewide momentum to create a mental health support network for children and parents.

Schools are a logical place to provide a comprehensive mental health system for kids since that’s where children spend most of their time. By bringing in mental health professionals, schools can be the place for a range of mental health services, and families can avoid long waiting lists and complications associated with needing a formal diagnosis to get help.

On top of that, there’s a serious need for culturally competent mental health services so children and teens have someone with whom they can relate and feel at ease. Culturally competent mental health staff can also be incredibly valuable when Black and brown kids’ behavior are racially profiled.

“People of color, especially boys of color like my son, are not given grace about their behavior in the same way. There is a very different way in which people have implicit bias,” said Sousan Robinson, a white mom. When she was a teenager and acting out, people connected her with services. Her son, who is Black, gets punishment. “Even with good intentions, they don’t realize who is getting written up for counseling and who is getting written up for a resource officer.”

While summer break is only weeks away, Children First won’t be taking a vacation from working to create a school-based mental health system. Join the growing statewide movement in support of our strategy to deliver qualified, culturally competent mental health care so every child can have hope for a bright future.

Tell your state senators to move The Childhood Blood Lead Test Act so kids poisoned by lead paint get the early help they need to thrive.

The Spring Cove Middle School chorus (near Altoona, PA) had to remove “Lift Every Voice and Sing” from their song list because parents thought it racially charged and were threatening to pull their children from the concert.

Parents want to keep their jobs and family’s financial security so they need reliable, quality, affordable child care. This can only happen with the a substantial financial investment by leaders in Harrisburg.

Sign a petition to lawmakers telling them to prioritize child care in the state budget.

“These allegations are further evidence of
this fundamentally flawed approach to
juvenile detention. Pennsylvania must adopt
models that heal children who, research
proves, make bad choices because their
lives were unfathomably hard, and little
was done to help their family or community
to ensure their healthy development.”

– Stefanie Arbutina, Children First Vulnerable
Youth Policy Director, on the lawsuit brought
by dozens of adults who were abused while
children in PA juvenile detention institutions