SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Summer is over and the spotlight is back on the youth mental health crisis.
In order to address the issue plaguing the nation, any college student who wants to be a school counselor, psychologist or social worker can get up to $20,000 in California. They just have to commit to four years to working in a public school district that has a certain percentage of low-income families.
“Since the pandemic, the suicide rate has increased across the state by about 20%," said Lishaun Francis with Children Now, "and that's even worse for our Black youth. That number has increased, and it's been about 28% increase since 2020.”
Francis is the director of behavioral health for Children Now, a research, policy and advocacy group focusing on children’s well being.
“We have outlined how many kids don't feel that they have at least one caring adult on campus to support their needs," Francis said. "So that's something that is very alarming to us.”
It’s something state Superintendent Tony Thurmond is trying to address. He worked with state Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire to author a bill incentivizing students to work in public schools.
“Students after they get out of college would have to dedicate at least four years to a school district or to a nonprofit that serves the school district to be able to see their student debt erased by the state of California,” Senator McGuire said.
It's a bill he no longer has to worry about because the idea was already added into the state budget.
“This is an incredibly targeted program," McGuire said. "Getting counselors to where they're needed most in low-income communities.”
UC San Francisco Professor of Health Policy, Janet Coffman, applauds the initiative, but worries there are a few barriers in the way.
“We need to really to be able to expand the capacity of the Cal State University system and other social work programs to expand," Coffman said. "I'm emphasizing Cal State because the majority of our masters of social work programs are at Cal State campuses.”
She said students are currently being denied entry to these programs, because there is not enough faculty to teach.
The senator said the program only applies to college and graduate students. It doesn't apply to those already working in the professional field who want to switch over to receive the same benefits.
The application is not open yet, but the senator said once it is, they will be able to track how many students apply.
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