Resources for Parents
Last updated January 2023
Frequently Asked Questions
How can a child and adolescent psychiatrist help if my child is struggling at school?
Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help identify educational disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc., and recommend appropriate interventions at school to help that student more effectively “access the curriculum” and progress academically. Schools often rely on child and adolescent psychiatrists to make an official diagnosis for a child to qualify for a 504 Plan or for an Individual Educational Program (IEP). Usually the child and adolescent psychiatrist will interview the child, parent(s)/guardian(s), and school staff to make a diagnosis and to identify appropriate interventions for that child’s unique constellation of symptoms. For example, a student with anxiety or depression may receive support from the school counselor/mental health worker at school, and more time to complete assignments. Also, the child and adolescent psychiatrist can address conditions contributing to anxiety or depression (e.g., cyberbullying, fears, difficulties working in afternoon classes, etc.) and recommend coping techniques on how to remain engaged, complete assignments, and better communicate with school staff and peers.
How should my child’s clinician(s) interact with school staff?
Families often worry that if a clinician interacts with school staff, their child may be labeled or treated differently. Determining how, and to which designated school staff any information will be shared can optimize how the school and clinicians collaborate. Parent/guardian need to keep any clinicians informed of changes in the student’s life. Families undergoing medication trials without notifying relevant school staff is discouraged, as the risks (unexplained side effects, sudden changes in behavior) exceed the benefits of waiting to determine if the school independently noticed any impact of changes to medication treatment. Instead, parent/caretakers should alert the school mental health staff about such changes and what to anticipate. This better prepares the school to respond to any unusual side effects or behaviors and decreases school perceptions that a child may be “oppositional.” For example, if the child puts his head down on a desk saying he is tired, he may be experiencing sedation from a medication.
How can I make my child’s school safer?
In recent years, safety at school has become a topic of profound concern. School, however, remains among the safest places for children to be, and chances of harm to students remains low, and indeed less likely than in the early 1990’s. To address these concerns, parents can:
- First, engage with school staff about any fears you may have, as plans may already be in place to provide or enhance school safety.
- Second, encourage your child to notify a trusted adult (i.e., parent, school staff) if they have reason to be concerned. Students may see or hear of threats or see postings on social media that warrant intervention. While students may be reluctant to identify concerns, parents can provide them with steps to take to keep their (school) world safe for all, including how to reach out to school staff if the student perceives anyone to be at risk of harm.
- Third, “active shooter drills” remain controversial, as there is no evidence that these approaches deter school violence or effectively prepare students/staff to prevent or respond to threats. Exposing students and staff to school assaults, real or fictional, may increase fears and anxiety more than equip students/staff with viable skills to use in these unique and frightening situations.
How can I help my child return to school after a hospitalization for a mental illness?
The primary objectives for a child returning to school after hospitalization for a suicide attempt, depression or other mental illness are to regain health and return to normal social functioning. Catching up on missed schoolwork is secondary to this. With input from the parent, the child decides what to tell others about the absence. Although there is no right or wrong decision, the parent and child must consider and accept the possible consequences of the decision. The child may need an adapted schedule for a gradual reintroduction to the school environment or other adaptations to relieve stress. Often a school day check-in and check-out process is helpful for the child to feel included and supported. During reintegration, the child should be able to contact and visit a trusted adult, such as a counselor or favorite teacher, to provide support. School personnel should help devise strategies to manage overwhelming struggles. A plan for catching up on schoolwork should be designed and take into consideration what work is needed, what timeline is reasonable, and alternative methods of making up credits, such as online courses. Expectations for completion need to be adjusted to the child’s ability to manage health recovery and schoolwork reasonably. Credits can be made up in the future. Finally, the child needs to be excused from school for doctor and therapy appointments.
How can I ensure that my child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be transferred if my child moves to a different school?
- Prior to the move, the parent should contact the special education department of the district or state agency where the family plans to live to find out their eligibility criteria for learning disabilities.
- Parents may also contact the Learning disabilities association (LDA) state or local affiliate in the state to which they are moving. The names and addresses of state and local affiliate presidents are on file in the LDA National Office.
- When getting to the new school district, the parent should enroll their child immediately.
- The parent should sign a release at the new school to enable the district to obtain copies of their child’s cumulative and special education records from his previous school.
- The parent may save even more valuable time if they bring copies of their child’s latest evaluation and their current IEP with them.
- When a family moves from one state to another, the receiving school district must first determine whether it will adopt the child's most recent evaluation and IEP, so having a copy of this is vital.
- If the receiving district determines that the previous evaluation complies with their state laws as well as Part B of Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) they may adopt the evaluation and provide the parent notice.
- The receiving district must also examine the student's IEP using the same criteria compliance with state law and Part B of IDEA.
- If the receiving district determines the IEP is appropriate and can be implemented, no IEP meeting needs to be held if the parent is satisfied with the current IEP.
- If either the parent or the school district is dissatisfied with the existing IEP, an IEP meeting must be conducted no later than 30 calendar days after the receiving school district accepts the eligibility determination and evaluation from the previous school district.
- Parents may initiate an impartial due process hearing if they disagree with either the new evaluation or the proposed IEP. Pending the hearing, the student could be placed in the program proposed by the receiving district, if the parent agrees or in another placement on which agreement can be reached.
Once a student is identified as eligible for services under Section 504, is there an annual or triennial review requirement?
Periodic re-evaluation is required. This may be conducted in accordance with the Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) regulation, which requires re-evaluation at three-year intervals or more frequently if conditions warrant, or if the child's parent or teacher requests a re-evaluation.
What resources are there when transitioning to college?
The transition from high school to college is rife with challenges as well as unimagined opportunities. The journey into adulthood is not without peril. Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among this unique group. Utilization of resources in high school, including counselors and college representatives, can help facilitate the preparation process. Ideally, school and family initiate the development of mental health awareness and interventions well before the day of high school graduation. The following resources listed below may help direct students, families and professionals during this crucial transition period.
- AACAP has abundant information for families and providers, including: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Transitioning-From-High-School-to-College-With-A-Psychiatric-Illness-Preparation-114.aspx.
- For the self-directed student, preparation for transition can begin in advance through materials such as the Freshman Guide to College Transition. https://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/resources/freshmen-college-transition/.
- Child mind.org is a unique resource that provides information and interventions, for the individual, family members, and professionals through their treatment of the topic, https://childmind.org/topics/concerns/college/. This same source also provides information regarding special needs in relation to postsecondary education.
- The national Center for Learning Disabilities offers assistance, at https://www.ncld.org/news/policy-and-advocacy/life-with-ld-navigating-the-transition-to-college/
- Webmd shines a light specifically on mental health issues through their publication for students, families and providers, https://www.webmd.com/special-reports/prep-teens-college/20180125/parents-teens-survey.
- Finally, SAMSHA provides additional support and education, addressing the topic of substance use, which can be rampant during these transitional times, through the resource, https://www.samhsa.gov/school-campus-health.
Is homeschooling a reasonable consideration for my child?
Home education is a valid educational trajectory for all children in the United States and approved in all fifty states. Any family, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, religion, employment, or socioeconomic status, is eligible to homeschool. Though common misconceptions label homeschoolers as poorly socialized and strongly religious, many are often socialized in broader age ranges; and individuals from all walks of life choose homeschooling for different reasons (https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/). In 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics noted the majority (91%) endorsed concerns about the school environment as important in their rationale (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=91).
Facts for Families
AACAP's Facts for Families provide concise up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families.
Visit Common Sense for a collection of apps used in schools to target social and emotional learning, mindfulness, and identifying feelings.
Platforms: iOS and Android
Calm provides people experiencing stress and anxiety with guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, and relaxing music.
Platforms: iOS and Android
Developer: Mental Health Association of New York City Inc.
Developed in partnership with national suicide prevention hotline, allows use of evidenced based safety plan on phone and integrates additional resources such as the national suicide hotline.
Stop, Breathe & Think
Platforms: iOS and Android
Developer: Tools for Peace
Designed for daily meditation & mindfulness, has a unique approach that allows you to check in with your emotions, and then recommends short, guided meditations, yoga and acupressure videos, tuned to how you feel. Teachers might use this as a class warm up activity.
Platforms: iOS and Android
Designed to teach young people simple mindfulness and relaxation skills, used in schools.
Half of all mental disorders begin by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.1 In the United States, one in four students, kindergarten to grade 12, has a diagnosable mental health or substance use disorder.2 A school setting allows uniquely accessible behavioral mental health services that are trauma-informed, evidence-based and developmentally and culturally appropriate.3
Schools also provide an interdisciplinary approach to addressing students’ needs through a team of professionals that may include teachers, counselors, social workers, therapists (occupational, physical, speech and language), nurses, pediatricians, psychologists and child and adolescent psychiatrists. Access to additional behavioral supports generally begins with a meeting of the school staff and the student’s parent/legal guardian.4
Unidentified and untreated mental health conditions can negatively impact a student’s ability to participate in their own education. Behavioral health supports in the schools have been found to result in a 20 – 60 percent reduction in disciplinary incidents as well as improvements in student academic performance.5
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders that impact thinking, feeling and behavior of school students. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have completed four years of medical school, at least three years of residency training in medicine, neurology, or general psychiatry with adults and two years of additional training in psychiatric work with youth and their families which allows them to contribute their expertise as part of the interdisciplinary team in the school setting.6
- Data and Statistics on Children's Mental Health. CDC Website accessed on the internet on 7-6-2019
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental health surveillance among children – United States, 2005—2011. MMWR 2013;62(Suppl; May 16, 2013):1-35.
- Lai K, Guo S, Ijadi-Maghsoodi R, Puffer M, Kataoka SH. Bringing Wellness to Schools: Opportunities for and Challenges to Mental Health Integration in School-Based Health Centers. Psychiatr Serv. 2016 Dec 1;67(12):1328-1333.
- Basch CE. Healthier students are better learners: a missing link in school reforms to close the achievement gap. J Sch Health. 2011 Oct;81(10): 593-8.
- Scott-Croff C. The Barriers to Collaboration, Inclusion and Teamwork within the Special Education Community. JNASET. 2018. Aug.
- Fox, G. Why Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. AACAP. 2017 accessed on 7-6-2019 at https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Medical_Students_and_Residents/Medical_Students/Why_Child_and_Adolescent_Psychiatry.aspx
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder
Bear in mind that because of the extensive training required, there is a nationwide shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. To learn more about other mental health professionals and places where families can find help, read Where to Find Help For Your Child.
Building Healthy Brains - A Brief Tip Sheet for Parents and Schools
This guide offers tips for parents and schools on how to promote well-being and the development of healthy brains.
School Services for Children with Special Needs: How to find information on your school district website about Know Your Rights
Alternative Pathways to Graduation
Transitioning from High School to College
- AACAP Facts For Families - Transitioning From High School to College With A Psychiatric Illness: Preparation
- Freshmen Guide to the College Transition
- College Student Mental Health - Child Mind Institute
- Life With LD: Navigating The Transition To College
- Mental Health Issues Overlooked in College Transition - WebMD
- School and Campus Health - SAMHSA
Find your local NAMI chapter especially to find mental health treatment and services in your area.
Directory of mental health treatment facilities national listing.
Recovery High Schools
Recovery high schools are secondary schools designed specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency.
Mental Health in Schools- a perspective from school counselors, teachers and students
Mental Health in Schools
School Based Telemedicine Health
Dealing with the Death of a Student or School Staff Member