Over 16,000 school buses are back on the streets of Indiana carrying over 1 million young Hoosiers back and forth to school. A variety of bills are in place this school year that lawmakers hope will improve the safety of children’s physical and mental health.
First, HEA 1391 aims to improve the accessibility of mental health professionals be easing licensing requirements. Now, mental health providers – including school social workers – who have licenses in other states will find it easier to do their work in Indiana and its school districts. This is particularly helpful in southern and northwestern Indiana where major metro areas sit just beyond Indiana’s boundaries. HEA 1391 and SEA 59 also make it easier for Bachelor degree holders, of which Indiana graduates many in social work, to move into a new bachelor’s level license.
Second, School employees are also undergoing expanded criminal background checks this year. New requirements also mean employees get re-checked every five years.
Third, HEA 1430 establishes new suicide prevention training for school employees. Teachers and school administrators aren’t always the right person to handle suicide prevention and mental health discussions, but they’re frequently the ones who are most likely to realize a potential issue.
Fourth, SB 355 is a variation on Erin’s Law or Jenna’s Law, which establishes reporting requirements for schools, including charter schools. Private schools in Indiana enroll just over 62,000 students and are also included. Under any suspicion of abuse, neglect, or sexual trauma schools are required to report issues immediately to law enforcement or the Department of Child Services. Before schools would notify an administrator, like a building principal or superintendent.
Fifth, While lawmakers are taking on the role of safeguarding children at an administrative level within schools, families and friends are always the first to know of an issue impacting a young person. If your child or friend exhibits discussion of suicidal thoughts, anger and crying, lack of concern for themselves or others, ask them: “Are you having thoughts of harming or killing yourself?” It’s hard to make yourself ask, but it won’t cause them to move closer to harm.
Sixth, Families are also encouraged to spend time talking to their children about their online activity. Children frequently have a different personality and persona online than they do offline. Bullying that happens at school can extend online and into a child’s home life. This goes both directions, as bullying online can extend into school. Children who may seem reserved offline may be more open and trusting online, too.
Ask children what they’re doing, who they’re talking to, and monitor what apps they’re using. Talk to them about treating people respectfully online as they would offline. Game consoles and PC games are also a common source of person-to-person communication that can be anonymous or local. Parents or trusted older siblings should make time to play games with their children or younger siblings to better understand the environments they’re being placed in.
If you suspect physical or sexual abuse is happening online, contact the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. Your report can remain anonymous. If you believe cyber crimes against children are happening in your area or on a site you’ve discovered, visit CyberTipline.com to file a report that will automatically be sent to your jurisdiction’s law enforcement agency.