Op-Ed | by Nehemiah D. Frank, Fellow Educator and Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Forgive me for being so cliché: The children are our future. If we don’t invest in the institutions that educate them today, tomorrow will not only be chaotic but costly to Oklahoma taxpayers.
Everyone knows that an uneducated student is more prone to a life of crime, which may eventually lead to them serving time in a prison cell. A student with an untreated mental illness has an even higher chance at landing in prison later in life.
Oklahomans can’t afford to send anyone else to its prisons. The state is currently ranked number one for mass incarceration in the US. And included in that mass prison population are the mothers and fathers of children who attend Oklahoma schools.
Like many of their parents, a multitude of these children suffer from mental health illnesses, too. The Child Mind Institute, reports that 50-percent of all mental illness occurs before children reach the age of 14, and 75—percent occur before the age of 24.
According to the National Institutes of Health, many mental health or “psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.”
Considering that 26,000 Oklahoma students are the children of incarcerated parents, and keeping in mind that many of these parents suffer from some form of mental illness, we need a systemic overhaul of funding from the state to solve Oklahoma’s growing mental health crisis that’s growing in our schools.
Currently, Oklahoma schools aren’t equipped to handle the mental health crisis in its schools. Teachers are not mental health professionals. They aren’t trained to provide trauma-informed care nor should they be expected to do so.
“When we’re talking about emotional or behavioral disabilities, we’re really talking about kids with serious mental health needs,” said Reece Peterson, a professor from the University of Nebraska.
“We now have children who have adverse childhood experiences that are profound…We are seeing increase in mental health issues that need support, and teachers are shouldering the brunt,” said the Sate Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute reports that, “Despite gains from [the 2018] teacher walkout, Oklahoma school funding is still way down.”
This is unfortunate bearing in mind what Superintendent Hofmeister, every teacher, school administrator, and social workers can attest: We need funding so mental health professionals can become part of Oklahoma’s school culture. We need professionals who can correctly implement trauma-informed care at the ground level, the schools, to students experiencing uncontrollable adverse situations.
“Three years ago, I became a foster parent to my now adopted children, and I experienced first-hand the social and economic effects of untreated mental illness. Mental illness is rampant for generations on both sides of my children’s biological family, and though it’s not the only cause, it is a serious contributor to the generational abuse and neglect that led to my children becoming foster children. Untreated mental illness also contributed toward various members of their extended family’s incarceration, teenage pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, and dependence upon public assistance like Social Security Disability, Section 8 housing and food stamps,” Shelly Cadamy wrote in blog for OKPolicy.
Cadamy is just one of many Oklahomans who understands the importance of mental health treatment, and the need for children to have access to trained mental health professionals.
If we want a better tomorrow for our students, we must be intentional and increase funding for mental health in our schools, or we may, unfortunately, find our state becoming the next victim of a school massacre due to a student’s mental illness going untreated.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.