ERN DC Advocates for Mental Health Services in DC Schools

April 14, 2023

DC Council, Committee of the Whole
Budget Oversight Hearing

Sherri Daniels
Civic Leader
Education Reform Now DC

Honorable Chairman Mendelson and esteemed members of the Committee of the Whole, greetings. My name is Sherri Daniels, I am a proud resident of Ward 8 with a masters degree in psychology, a community caseworker, and a prominent civic leader for Education Reform Now DC. Today, I speak before you as someone who has experienced firsthand the critical importance of mental health services in our schools. As a DC native, my own journey to receiving mental health support began in high school, much like the students I serve today.

Growing up in the District, I experienced the adversities of becoming aware of and accessing the mental health services I desperately needed. It wasn’t until high school that I was introduced to a school clinician who, despite being overburdened and burnt out, inspired me to become a psychologist. This personal encounter underscored a persistent issue in our schools: the overwhelming workload placed on a single clinician is simply too much work for one person to manage effectively.

The connection between trauma and student engagement in DC highlights the importance of school-based behavioral health (SBBH) services for improving academic performance and overall well-being. However, the 2022 DC Health Matters assessment emphasizes the urgent need for workforce development, with a 21% average vacancy rate among DC Behavioral Health Association member organizations.

To address vacancy issues and our urgent need for workforce development, I implore the Committee of the Whole to take the following actions:

1. Increase funding for school-based behavioral health services to $3.45 million to ensure stable compensation per clinician.
2. Convene a hearing on B25-55, the “Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act of 2023.”

This bill will lower the financial barrier for people of color to enter a field that requires more clinicians with cultural competency. A 2020 report found that 22% of new social workers were Black/African American, and 14% were Hispanic/Latino.  Additionally, a 2016 community needs assessment conducted by the District of Columbia Healthy Communities Collaborative identified cultural competency as a priority need, for behavioral health specialists working with children in Wards 7 and 8.  Holding a public hearing would be a step in the right direction to address the District’s long-term

Our children’s mental health is a critical component of their overall well-being and academic success. By investing in the school based behavior health and supporting initiatives like the :Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act of 2023,” we can create a brighter future for every student in the District.

Thank you for your time and consideration.