AFT Resolution


WHEREAS, each year up to one in five children experience a mental disorder, or a “serious deviation from expected cognitive, social and emotional development,” including 6.2 million suffering from emotional, behavioral or developmental (EBD) issues, 1.6 million struggling with substance abuse, 2.1 million facing a major depressive episode and 8 percent having attempted suicide; and

WHEREAS, the cognitive, attentional and social challenges that attend mental illness and emotional disturbance often impede students' academic success and disrupt positive school climates; and

WHEREAS, members and leaders of the American Federation of Teachers emphatically report that mental health is their top priority for the union's work on children's health and insist that mental illness and emotional disturbance among students are both increasingly prevalent and increasingly severe; and

WHEREAS, in 2015, two out of five children who needed treatment for a mental illness did not receive it, less than 1 percent of students with a serious emotional disturbance had an individualized education plan and 11.4 percent of children with EBD issues were uninsured for at least part of the year; and

WHEREAS, school-based AFT members are generally dissatisfied with the staffing levels of mental health providers in their schools, and organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists, the School Social Worker Association of America and the American School Counselor Association consistently report that school-based mental health providers are working with untenable caseloads across the country; and

WHEREAS, over 70 percent of children who receive mental health services report school as the site of their primary care provider, making schools the de facto mental health system for children, and there is evidence that school-based programs overcome entrenched disparities in access; and

WHEREAS, misconceptions about student control over externalizing behaviors, such as some elements of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse and conduct disorder, have inspired zero-tolerance and other punitive policies and exacerbated disparities:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will promote policies, practices and procedures that advance parity of mental and behavioral health with physical health, such as through well-funded public health systems; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will seek to maximize state capacity and commitment to the whole child with 21st-century infrastructure that best connects children and workers to effective, evidence­ based services that promote social-emotional well-being and mental health, such as by:

  • Appropriately staffing public schools with diverse specialized instructional support personnel;
  • Dedicating resources to the development and sustained work of community schools coordinators, school-based health centers and other impactful labor-management­ community partnership models;
  • Designing and using robust data systems that allow public agencies to quickly identify, track and serve children and families in need; and
  • Integrating indicators of students' mental and behavioral health and social-emotional well-being into evaluation models, such as those required under the new Every Student Succeeds Act; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will build the capacity of members in all divisions, and especially school­based members, to recognize common mental illnesses and social-emotional challenges, as well as build skills to provide basic supports, such as through mental health first aid; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will promote universal prevention models for children's behavioral, emotional and mental health, such as trauma-informed practices that seek to enrich social support and mitigate the impact of adverse childhood experiences; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will examine the impact of school-based programs to address students' social-emotional well-being and mental health on school-based personnel, including rates of burnout, compassion fatigue, retention, stress, turnover and violence; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue to advance the work outlined in our 2014 resolution to "Support Restorative Justice Programs in Schools That Receive Public Funds."