It’s back to school time and families are busy completing the “to dos” on their back-to-school list — buying school supplies, shopping for new clothes and shoes, updating immunizations and physicals (August is National Immunization Awareness Month), and generally preparing their household for the new school year. Amidst this frantic rush, one of the most critical factors in a child’s experience at school can get overlooked — their health and wellbeing.
How parents and families support their child’s social and emotional needs is pivotal. This is especially true during adolescence, the period between ages 12-18, which studies show is a particularly vulnerable time in a child’s development. Recent trends show a significant rise in mental health challenges and substance abuse among adolescents, sounding alarms for parents, schools and public, community and health leaders.
The whole health and wellbeing of children requires a deeper understanding of the social and mental determinants of health that specifically impact young people.
Unique and non-traditional public/private partnerships are prioritizing the total wellbeing of children and teens, including their behavioral health needs. Strategic collaboration between parents, schools, community organizations, public health agencies and healthcare organizations are fueling the success of programs that focus on screening and prevention, early intervention and/or improved access to appropriate care to compassionately address behaviors before they lead to negative outcomes.
As the new school year kicks off, here are some tips and important considerations for parents, schools and community organizations to help foster health and wellbeing for every child.
1. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Parents and schools: Understanding what resources are available before they’re needed makes navigating and accessing them much easier when needs arise. Navigating during a crisis is hard, so know the interdisciplinary team at the school and the data connections in your community to stay up to date.
Community organizations: A recent issue brief from HealthNet in California outlined some key lessons learned through the launch of a state/local communities effort to manage comprehensive needs through whole-person care as well as improve quality outcomes. Some of the recommendations stemming from lessons learned include:
- Leaning into the deep knowledge of local providers viewed as trusted advisors by residents
- Building new capacity by investing in workforce development, training, and recruitment and technology to support community service efficiency and reach
- Leveraging connected information systems that offer integrated data on social drivers of health to help ensure people of all ages receive the care they need
2. Communication is key.
Parents and schools: Making time (in real time) to listen, ask questions and stay up to date with school events and activities fosters more opportunities for engagement with your children, as well as with other parents and school leaders who they interact with and can influence their mental wellness.
Community organizations: Sharing information and resources can lead to significant strides in improving health disparities and social determinants of health in young people:
- Data and resources, evidence-based best practices, and community health expertise
- Access to accurate, up-to-date and local public health data on a range of topics related to child and adolescent health and wellbeing
- Common spaces (a digital town square) to connect local resources, activities and initiatives, and foster multi-sector collaborations and community engagement
- Planned and intentional collaboration, which minimizes administrative burdens on providers, counties, and other community partners
- Operational support and funding for local providers to strengthen collaborative infrastructure, enable comprehensive training, and better prepare providers to deliver quality care and inform young people about how to improve their health
3. Addressing emotions works.
Parents and schools: Adults are leaders and mentors for children (even if they are growing up before our eyes), so how we recognize and identify feelings and emotions demonstrates and mirrors positive associations with them. When we give our emotions language, we reduce their power over us with descriptive words that simply explain how our brains are working.
And when our children’s bodies and minds are active, it also gives their mental health a boost. A 2021 study by the National Institutes of Health found that adolescents who engaged in extracurricular activities, particularly artistic and musical activities, also scored higher on social awareness and social-emotional skills.
Community organizations: Nurturing and implementing local programs focused on children’s health and wellbeing helps cultivate overall health in communities. Finding ways to share knowledge and resources and collaborate on initiatives avoids “reinventing the wheel” and helps drive efficiency and quality for these programs. As a basic resource, MentalHealth.gov provides a list of local organizations across the country with mental health expertise.
Cultivating partnerships with local public health departments, schools and other community resources helps build a rich, supportive network to foster health and wellbeing for all age groups in a community. Now, more than ever, it's critical for families, schools and their children and teens — especially underserved populations — to be empowered with supportive resources and information that helps them be healthy and thrive.
Our team at Conduent Healthy Communities Institute has been actively working with health systems, health departments and community health organizations to help address the adolescent mental health crisis facing the U.S. We know that when the back-to-school list includes children’s social and emotional needs, it helps keep their overall health and wellbeing a priority throughout the year.
About Healthy Communities Institute
Conduent Healthy Communities Institute provides an end-to-end solution for community health that links health and social determinants of health with technology and expertise. The HCI platform brings stakeholders together with a centralized dashboard of more than 150 health, social, and economic indicators, high value analytics, and evidence-based practices at the user’s fingertips.
Contact Conduent Healthy Communities Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.