2013 Bruce S. Jansson MSW Award

Contest Winner: Susan Bailey
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Ronald Dickerson, University of South Carolina


Influencing State Policy: Bill H. 3365

The purpose of this project was to advocate for South Carolina Legislative Bill H. 3365, which calls for employing a psycho-educational professional, identified as a school psychologist, to provide mental health services in every public school in the state. This important piece of legislation recognizes the need to identify students with mental health concerns and to provide access to services within the school setting. In addition to our efforts on behalf of Bill H. 3365, the group advocated for an amendment that would allow schools the option of hiring appropriately licensed social workers to fill these positions.

Statistics suggest that 200,000 students in South Carolina’s public schools have unmet mental health needs. This bill would play a significant role in providing services to meet those needs and in creating safe environments for students to learn. Recent national and local incidents of school violence, bullying, and other mental health problems highlight the urgent need for mental health services within the school setting and made advocacy for Bill H. 3365 very timely.

The group’s efforts began by initiating discussions with stakeholders in local schools to help us gather information about the role of school psychologists in providing mental health services and find out if there was support for the bill and amendment. We created a petition to show support for the bill and a collaborative effort with the University of South Carolina’s Department of Social Work and the South Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers yielded over 200 signatures. This petition was presented to the Governor and members of the legislature. We realized that educating legislators about the role social workers play in providing mental health services was vital to our recommendation that the bill be amended and we developed a plan for contacting members of the House Committee on Education and Public Works. As we began to contact committee members, we discovered that the bill was sent to the House Subcommittee for K-12 Education for debate and realized that it would not have a chance for success if it did not have subcommittee member support. Our focus was then directed to the members of the subcommittee. We worked with the subcommittee’s research director who assisted the group in submitting our statement of support for the bill and information about the role of social workers to the subcommittee members. Our efforts resulted in an invitation to address the subcommittee when discussion of the bill began.

The efforts of the group successfully served our original purpose, to advocate for Bill H. 3365 and for an amendment to include social workers. The group accomplished the goal of educating stakeholders and garnering public support for the bill. We learned quickly that contacting legislators can be difficult. Our team found that working with a staff member who had direct access to committee members was more effective than contacting them individually and arranging multiple meetings. The relationship the group established with the subcommittee’s research director played an instrumental role in our advocacy. The team discovered how quickly things change within the legislature when, during debate in the subcommittee, all of the wording of the bill was struck and replaced with a plan for creating a task force to examine the issue of mental health needs within the state’s public schools. The group was delighted that committee members designated that one member of the task force is to be appointed by the South Carolina Association of School Social Workers. Though the final version of the bill did not resemble the original, the group felt our efforts were meaningful and that our goal of providing mental health services within the public school setting had taken a step toward reality.

Appendix A

Task: Contact stakeholders to gather information and find out if there was support for the bill.

Contact:

  1. School Psychologists
  2. School Principal
  3. School Guidance Counselor
  4. School Resource Officer
  5. Legislative Members who sponsored the bill
  6. Presentation at PTA Parent Breakfast

We learned how stakeholders viewed the bill and found that most supported it, but had concerns. School psychologists were somewhat reticent to fully support the bill due to concerns of increased workload. Parents expressed strong support for school based services and committed to contacting legislators. School Resource Officer related experiences with many students who seem to need someone to talk to. SRO was not aware of the role of social workers in the school. School principal was very supportive of increased mental health services for students but expressed concern about funding. Legislator members were difficult to contact. Those we spoke to were not fully informed about the bill and requested information about social workers’ role.

Create a petition to solicit support for the bill and recommendation for amending it to include social workers. Collaborate with organizations that are currently supporting the bill. Our collaboration with the University of South Carolina’s Department of Social Work and the South Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers yielded over 200 signatures on the petition. The group’s petition was presented to the Governor and legislators.

Contact Research Assistant for the House Committee on Education and Public Works for information about the bill’s progress.

Research Assistant provided information that helped the team develop a strategy. We learned how the bill would progress through the legislative process and how to make the most effective contacts. We learned that the bill had been referred to the Subcommittee for K-12 Education for debate.

Meet with Research Director for the House Subcommittee for K-12 Education.

Research Director provided suggestions for contacting subcommittee members and the most effective methods of informing subcommittee members. The group prepared a statement of support for the bill and information about proposed amendment. Research Director provided the group’s information to subcommittee members. The group was invited to attend the session when the subcommittee debated the bill. The Research Director provided updates of the bill’s progress.