More crisis counseling needed in Chicago schools

By Editorial Board

Traumatic events like divorce or the death of a relative can disrupt a child’s behavior, schoolwork and attention span, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Research also suggests trauma is particularly prevalent among students living on Chicago’s South and West sides, which are plagued by gun and gang violence. 

A 2007 study by Dexter Voisin, an associate professor at the University of Chicago, surveyed 600 black high school students in Chicago. Nearly half had witnessed a gang-related injury or death, and nearly a quarter had been a victim of robbery or mugging, according to the study. The study also revealed black youth in Chicago are up to 10 times more likely to experience violence in their community. These statistics mirror a larger study done in 1990 by the Chicago Community Health Council. Of the 1,000 middle and high school students from the South Side surveyed, 39 percent had witnessed a shooting and 35 percent had witnessed a stabbing.

Chicago Public Schools has four crisis counselors assigned to serve its nearly 397,000 students, according to a Nov. 6 Al Jazeera article titled, “Soaring Violence Scars Minds of Chicago Kids, but Help Stretched Thin.” Considering the alarming regularity of violence on the city’s South and West sides, this ratio is beyond disproportionate—it’s irresponsible. 

According to the article, Los Angeles’ public school system employs about 150 professionals designated to support students through crises, including nurses, social workers and counselors.

CPS’ support services for students are lacking across the board. CPS employs 731 counselors, with only one assigned to each elementary school, according to a 2012 report by the Chicago Teachers Union. The American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students, according to the report. If CPS were to follow this recommendation, the school system would need to employ about 1,600 counselors, according to the report. Similarly, only 370 social workers are employed by CPS, while ASCA recommendations call for 1,023 social workers to serve all CPS students adequately, according to the report.

Bringing in additional counselors, social workers and psychologists in the midst of the CPS budget crisis may be unrealistic, but the need for more counseling remains. Unlike crisis counselors, teachers interact with their students daily and would likely recognize an irregularity in behavior or performance. Implementing additional training for teachers and other school workers to be able to support students who are coping with traumatic events could ensure students receive the attention they need. 

Providing additional and long-term counseling resources could help students cope with the emotional and mental scarring that affects youth long after a traumatic event ends. Students exposed to violence and crime are more susceptible to depression, substance abuse, homelessness and poor performance in school, according to a 2002 study by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Experiencing traumatic events during childhood and adolescence also makes one more likely to commit violent crimes later in life, according to the study. While providing crisis counseling for students may not end the West and South sides’ violence, the additional support could help students stay on track and focus on personal goals.

Traumatic events have the potential to impact every aspect of children’s lives, such as their communities, their sleeping patterns, their schoolwork and their futures. Until CPS’ budget deficit is solved and the possibility of additional hires can be explored, CPS has a responsibility to ensure students can receive the daily support they deserve.