School Resource Officers Speak Out on Children’s Mental Health
by Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D., director, NAMI Child & Adolescent Action Center and Laura Usher, CIT Coordinator, NAMI
not every day that you get the opportunity to sit down with 35 school
resource officers (SROs) and find out what’s on their minds. SROs have a
unique perspective as law enforcement officers working in schools to
ensure the safety of students and school staff. With the help of Lt.
David Anders from the Lake Charles (La.) Police Department, this is
exactly what NAMI staff did in November 2009. Our conversation, which
focused on the mental health needs of young people in schools, is the
subject of a newly released report titled, “A Focus Group Report: A Conversation with CIT Trained School Resource Officers.”
Schools cannot afford to ignore this report. What the SROs reported
from Southwest Louisiana is what NAMI routinely hears from families
across the country regarding the needs of students with mental health
conditions. They are not faring well in our nation’s schools, and they
have the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
The focus group is part of a larger NAMI initiative to expand the
use of police crisis intervention teams (CIT) specifically designed to
respond to children and youth in crisis. For 20 years CIT programs have
improved the outcomes of police interactions between police and people living with mental
illness. This has been accomplished by creating partnerships between
advocates, mental health providers and law enforcement and providing
training to law enforcement officers.
What the SROs revealed was striking. Concerns about the lack
of school resources to respond to children with mental health needs
echo the concerns NAMI has heard from families for years. Specifically,
the SROs called on schools to provide more on-site mental health
services, better linkages to services in the community and better
teacher training on mental health.
SROs asked to be involved in planning to assist
students rather than simply being called on in a crisis. Although the
SROs in the focus group were trained about mental health issues through
Lake Charles’ adult CIT program, they asked for more targeted training
on issues they encounter in schools. They cited suicide attempts,
self-injurious behaviors and substance abuse as being of great
According to the SROs, families also need help—they struggle to
get effective services for their child while trying to cope with the
challenges their child presents at home.
Law enforcement agencies around the country have shown tremendous
leadership in adopting CIT programs. NAMI is so pleased to see their
interest in our CIT for youth initiative. NAMI calls on schools to join
law enforcement in recognizing the critical need to better address the
mental health needs of students in our nation’s schools.
Learn from the NAMI CIT Technical Assistance Resource Center.