Today, 1 in 5 children struggles with a mental illness or lives in a food-insecure household. Impoverished children face even greater health risks with limited access to appropriate care. Recognizing the growing challenge of health disparities and their impact on school success, AFT’s Health, Safety and Well-Being department launched the program to focus on children’s wellness.
Members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated unions representing PreK-12 teachers as well as paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRP) were among those who shared their perspective and experience on the survey. Their responses revealed three overarching priorities for an effective child health program:
- Mental health (MH) services;
- Equitable access to care; &
- Food security.
“Our members know firsthand that identifying and meeting mental health challenges takes a commitment of resources,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “That means safe and responsive staffing as well as training and professional development to help educators better understand students’ needs and impacts,” added Hochadel, who served as a Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) mentor while teaching in the Connecticut State Technical High School System (CTHSS).
A recent example of this advocacy is AFT’s participation in the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a unique collaboration of educators, administrators and school health professionals from across the nation. Our union in July launched a coalition-sponsored program to train educators in research-based strategies to help children dealing with grief and loss continue to grow and learn.
for our previous report on the initiative.
“In Connecticut, we’ve made great strides in improving healthcare coverage for children,” said AFT Connecticut First Vice-President Jean Morningstar. “But too many still rely on emergency room visits for primary care needs. That’s why we’ve long urged support for local schools so they could provide students with an appropriate number of nurses and other caregivers,” added Morningstar, who also serves on the board of the Connecticut Health Advancement and Research Trust (CHART).
Legislation AFT Connecticut advocated for earlier this year that required at least one school nurse for every 750 students was passed by lawmakers with strong bi-partisan support. The bill in July was vetoed by the governor, putting the issue back on our agenda for the 2016 session of the Connecticut General Assembly.
for our previous report on the role of school nurses in student health.
“We all agree that no child should go hungry and that every student should have the opportunity to learn,” said AFT Connecticut Vice-President for Teachers Patti Fusco. “That means making sure they are are eating well before and during the schoolday so they have the fuel to stay focused and engaged in the classroom,” added Fusco, a full-time educator and member of the West Haven Federation of Teachers.
At our national convention in 2014, union delegates passed a resolution in support of healthy and hunger-free schools, committing to “universal breakfast and lunch” for all students. The pledge followed years of advocacy at the state local, state and federal levels by member educators to help children build healthy minds and bodies.
Members are encouraged to get involved in adopting the report’s simple strategies to support children’s physical, mental and social well-being. To that end, AFT has prepared a booklet with infographics promoting students’ mental health, boosting access to high-quality healthcare and ensuring nutritious school meals.