In Efforts to Improve Safety, Mental-Health Counseling Lags in Florida

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More than 130 police officers and deputies roam the halls of Orange County's 184 public schools, a visible reminder of efforts to make schools safer.

But the same schools share only 44 social workers. That's about one for every 4,150 students, well over the one-to-250 ratio recommended by the School Social Work Association of America.

In the wake of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., schools in Central Florida and around the country have reacted by bolstering physical security and adding more police. In Orange County, that included stationing full-time deputies at about 60 elementary schools.

But less attention has been paid to the mental health of the students in those schools. Some of those students are at risk of hurting themselves. A small number are a risk to others.

"You need to put finances into making sure children are safe and have the ability to learn," said Mary Bridges, who oversees Orange's school social workers. "The better we get to know our students, the better service we can provide to them."

Read more