Mental Health

4 minute read

Mental Health icon. Simplified figure with a medical cross on its head.Our Position

Youth with intellectual/ developmental disabilities (IDD) are 3 times more likely to experience trauma and abuse than their peers without disabilities. Untreated trauma can place children at increased risk for further developmental delay. In 2021, the legislature should increase opportunities for success for these students by protecting gains made last session to strengthen school-based mental health supports and eliminate exclusionary disciplinary methods that harm students with disabilities and/ or mental health issues. These efforts must also extend to proactively identifying and supporting children before they enter school.

The Latest

May 20, 2020: CTD joins Texas Coalition for Healthy Minds (TCHM) Texans Care for Children's call to TEA Commissioner Morath to put student and staff social-emotional needs "front and center" in state guidance to school districts about operating amid the coronavirus pandemic

May, 2020: CTD joins Texas Appleseed's open letter on Education Justice Responses to COVID-19



Unaddressed mental health conditions can impede academic success, impact social emotional wellbeing, and compound existing developmental delays. Children and youth with disabilities and/ or mental health challenges are often unidentified and do not have adequate access to or receive treatment. Lack of training in early childhood spaces, school mental health personnel shortages, inappropriate discipline practices, and an uncoordinated effort between schools and mental health systems all contribute to the lack of identification and mental health treatment.

The trauma of COVID-19 has further highlighted a growing need for the Legislature to address early childhood and school mental health. In 2019, Texas took steps in the right direction by prioritizing mental health in schools, but came up short in addressing the unique needs of children and youth at the intersection of disability and mental health.

Young children respond to emotional experiences and traumatic events and process those events in very different ways than adults and older children. Consequently, identification of mental health needs and trauma in early childhood can be much more difficult than it is in adults. Early childhood spaces offer a unique opportunity to implement proactive strategies to influence healthy physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional outcomes later in life. For that reason, it is critical that early childhood caregivers, educators, and providers have the skills and accessible community resources to support families. However, direct caregivers, service providers, and educators in Texas often lack the awareness of or expertise to identify risk factors in order to implement preventative strategies and to determine when intervention may be needed, or how to navigate systems.

As young children grow and transition into school, early trauma or unidentified/untreated mental health challenges can follow along. While CTD and others successfully advocated for investing in school-based mental health supports in 2019, there is still much more work to do. Students are navigating an unprecedented time and toxic stress is emerging as a barrier to learning during an uncertain time. COVID-19 has also underscored the critical importance of providing access to behavioral and mental health supports and eliminating disproportionality in school discipline.

During the 87th Texas legislative session, CTD will support policies that bolster mental health supports for young children, build on gains made in 2019, and address disproportionality in harsh discipline practices in schools.

Early Childhood Mental Health: CTD will advocate to strengthen preservice and professional development requirements so early childhood educators and caregivers are prepared to work with children with disabilities and support the mental health needs of all children. Additionally, we will urge the legislature to invest in prevention and early intervention programs to ensure the safety and healthy development of our youngest Texans.

School Discipline: Students with disabilities are over-represented in all forms of school discipline, including informal practices known as shadow discipline. As a result, they are more likely to get funneled through the school-to-prison pipeline and to drop out of school. CTD will advocate for real interventions to eliminate inequity and put all students on a path to success. In 2021, we will urge the legislature to eliminate the use of punitive practices that punish students for behaviors that are a manifestation of a disability, or a response to pandemic-related stress.

Further Reading