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  • Trauma Informed District

    The Need for School Mental Health Services in LAUSD


    Shocking statistics tell the local and national story of the need for mental health services for students, families and school communities. Both within LAUSD and across the nation, an overwhelming number of students come to school every day with a myriad of adversities and mental health1 problems that compromise their ability to learn and achieve academically. Research suggests that schools function as the de facto mental health system for children and adolescents2. Nationally, only 50% of youth in need receive any mental health services3. In California, three out of four children with mental health needs do not receive treatment despite having health care coverage4. Of those receiving care, up to 80% receive it in a school setting5.  More than 25% of American youth experience a serious traumatic event by their 16th birthday, and many children suffer multiple and repeated traumas including: abuse, maltreatment and neglect; traumatic loss; serious accidental injury; experiencing or witnessing violence in neighborhoods, schools and homes; treatment for life-threatening illness (medical trauma); accidents and fires; disasters and terrorism. Twenty-one percent of youth aged 13-18 have a mental illness that causes significant impairment in their daily life6, 50% of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24. 7 In a 2013-2014 screening of 572 LAUSD students, 88% reported experiencing three or more traumatic events in their lifetime, 55% of whom showed symptoms of PTSD, depression, or anxiety.
    The above statistics are startling for many reasons. Within the context of the nation’s second largest school district, perhaps the most compelling of those is that mental wellbeing is an essential component of success in the classroom, and, if students are experiencing adversity and mental health issues without access to appropriate support and services, they won’t be able to learn, achieve, and graduate from high school ready for college and/or a career. In addition, the staff and administrators who are dedicated to support LAUSD students in their success need the support of qualified professionals to address needs ranging from students who become disengaged from learning because of trouble at home, to students with special needs who are experiencing emotional and behavioral disturbances, to violent and traumatic incidents in the community or on the campus.
    Current Landscape of SMH Theory and Best Practices in LAUSD
    For the last decade, SMH has engaged in mental health research through partnerships with universities and other institutions. Through this commitment and participation, SMH has become a national leader in two key research-based approaches to school mental health services: trauma-informed and evidenced-based practices. SMH places a high priority on research-based interventions and practices which have the skillset and training to promote social-emotional wellbeing that is needed for academic achievement.
    1 We use the following definition of mental health: Mental health in childhood and adolescence is defined by the achievement of expected developmental cognitive, social, and emotional milestones and by secure attachments, satisfying social relationships, and effective coping skills. Mentally healthy children and adolescents enjoy a positive quality of life; function well at home, in school, and in their communities; and are free of disabling symptoms of psychopathology. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
    2 Burns, BJ, EJ Constello, A. Angold, and D. Tweed. “Children’s Mental Health Service Use Across Service Sectors.” Health Affairs 14.3 (1995): 149-59.
    3 National Alliance on Mental Illness. “RAISING Mental Health Awareness: The facts.” Retrieved from ContentGroups/CAAC/FactSheetsforYouth.pdf
    4 Padilla-Frausto, Imelda, David Grant, May Aydin, and Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola. Three Out of Four Children with Mental Health Needs in California Do Not Receive Treatment Despite Having Health Care Coverage. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. July 2014
    5 Burns et al.
    6 Merikangas KR, Avenevoli S, Costello EJ, Koretz D, Kessler RC. The National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A): I. Background and Measures. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2009;48(4):367-369. Retrieved from http://
    7 Mental Health Exacts Heavy Toll, Beginning in Youth (2005 June 6). The National Institutes of Mental Health. Retrieved from
  • Contact

    Interim Director:

    LaKisha Johnson, LCSW, M.A. Ed, PPSC

    333 S. Beaudry Ave. 29th Floor
    Los Angeles, CA 90017

  • School Mental Health Brochure