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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Let’s give Colorado’s children the support they need and save lives

The way we support our children will be the measure of our future success. Today, many of our children are struggling to get ahead and even dying by their own hands. Suicide is now one of the leading causes of death among our young people. It’s time to give them the support they deserve.

The youth suicide rate in Colorado continues to rise. Our youth are also entering foster care at unprecedented rates. Currently, we are short 1,164 foster homes to meet the need.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet

Our children are entering the corrections system as young as age 10. Teen vaping is a threat to the health of our youth and spiraling toward an epidemic. The state of our youth is troubling, and it is time for a bold move to begin protecting our kids.

We see our youth entering school with trauma and challenges far beyond the ability of teachers to manage. Today, social workers in schools typically have more than 1,400 students in their caseloads.

School counselors in elementary schools typically have more than 450 students in their caseload. This is unsustainable and ineffective.

The question I am asking is this: What would it look like if we rethink our elementary school setup so that each grade, 100 students or fewer, has a dedicated social worker who follows the child from kindergarten to fifth grade?

We know that services provided earlier on have greater results. Imagine a situation where a social worker engages with the family and identifies safety net insecurities and follows up with wrap-around services. How many students could we help stay in their homes?

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Imagine a social worker who knows a student personally and can easily identify behaviors out of the norm. They could check-in and prevent emotional cycles from going out of control. Imagine a social worker who is there to be the advocate for a child in an Individualized Education Program meeting.  Support would be provided on the front end, to help prevent children from slipping through the cracks.

We know that early intervention can prevent entrance into youth corrections and prevent suicide. Imagine further what would happen when a teacher no longer has to play mental health provider.

Teachers would be able to teach. Students would be able to learn, staying in class instead of spending hours in the principal’s office. Test scores would rise.

That’s why I have introduced legislation HB19-1017 at the state Capitol to create a pilot program with the goal of increasing access to school social workers in public elementary schools.

The bill will be heard in committee this month, and it is my hope that we can pass it through the House and Senate and get it signed into law.

We refuse to accept the fact that people young and old are dying from opioid related overdoses; we should refuse to accept the fact that our young people are struggling to get ahead and even dying by suicide. We must continue to address this crisis head on.

Let’s take a bold move and give the students the support they so desperately need. We will save lives, and we will change their futures.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat, serves as the state representative for House District 30 in Commerce City and Aurora in the Colorado House of Representatives.