A Review of Previous Educational Policies: LGBT & Children in Need of Protection
Liboro, Travers, and St. John’s (2015) article Beyond the Dialectics and Polemics: Canadian Catholic Schools Addressing LGBT Youth Issues provided many ideas and insights into how policies and supports were created for LGBT students in the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. This type of information relates to our research on mental health issues in school not only because students who identify as part of the LGBT community have increased mental health problems (p.159) but also because just as a policy has been created for LGBT students, a policy needs to be mandated for students with mental health issues. The article was an inspiration to what kinds of supports students could have if a mental health policy was put into place across the province.
The article first provided a literature review stating that strategies and supports that worked well for LGBT students in the United States were a combination of creating safe spaces, fostering school climates of respect and tolerance, involving the school community, and providing LGBT students with resources outside of their schools to meet their individual needs (p.159). If these supports worked for students in the US, it would be then worthwhile to try the same methods in a Canadian context. Just as LGBT students need and benefit from these supports, students suffering from mental illnesses would also benefit. For example, creating safe spaces for students is imperative to student well-being as a whole. The article detailed the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and other clubs created for LGBT students to talk about what they were going through; these clubs were extremely beneficial to LGBT students as they felt a sense of belonging and acceptance (p.167). In a similar way, if clubs and support groups within the school were to be created for students to talk about their mental health issues and feelings, the stigma of mental health would be significantly decreased in schools. The general purpose of clubs, teams, and support groups in schools is to gather students with common interests, issues, and feelings together and create a safe space to share and practice them.
If students feel comfortable enough to talk about their feelings and issues important to them without being judged and bullied by their peers, a school can be deemed a safe space. In addition, creating an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for all students can improve their well-being, as well as decrease the stigma around mental health. If a school climate of tolerance, respect, and acceptance of everyone is created, students will be more willing to join a “Mental Health Awareness Club” or “Mental Health Support Group.”
Another proponent of the article described the importance of LGBT youth seeing themselves reflected in the curriculum and in the classroom in the form of using inclusive and affirming language (p.171). The same could be done for mental health. Just as students can be deterred from saying “that’s so gay,” they could also move away from labelling students with mental illnesses as “weak” or “lazy.” There were many more ideas in the article about how to increase awareness of LGBT issues; however, more parallels were found between the following article on these subjects and the topic of our research.
Shewchuk’s (2014) article entitled Children in Need of Protection: Reporting Policies in Ontario Schools gave insight into the policies and supports surrounding the reporting of child abuse in schools. Just as with the article above, where a policy was created to allow the formation of GSAs and support groups in schools, legislation was also created that allowed school boards to create policies around how to report cases of children in need of protection (p.1). As we are advocating for a policy that addresses mental health in schools, this article had many ideas around how a policy should be created and what it should include. Perceived teacher deterrents to reporting cases of child abuse included knowledge of legislation and level of training on recognizing signs of abuse (p.3). In a similar way, if teachers are unaware of supports to help students with mental illnesses and cannot identify the signs of them, they will be more likely to let that student slip through the cracks. “Being able to identify when abuse has occurred is the first step to stopping the abuse from reoccurring” (p. 3); it can then be said that being able to identify the signs of mental illness is the first step to helping students get the support they need before it is too late.
As the article described, providing teachers with appropriate resources and supports, including easy-to-read policies, can improve the amount of reporting (p.5); the same can be said for mental health. If a policy is created at the board level that clearly states (a) how to recognize the signs of mental illness, (b) how to support students who are suffering from mental illness, and (c) external supports, then teachers will be more aware of how their students are feeling, and be able to talk about mental health and well-being with their students, which will decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The article also had information on how to partner with external resources in the making of board policies (in this case, Children’s Aid Societies). Similarly, school boards could partner with youth services and other community organizations that provide counselling and support to students and their families suffering from mental illnesses. In addition, training in the form of professional development could keep staff members up to date on mental health news, supports, and strategies.
In conclusion, these two articles included information on school board policies regarding LGBT students and students in need of protection. The ideas and suggestions described in these articles paralleled the focus of our research on mental health awareness in schools. Once board policies have been put into place describing student, teacher, and community roles, mental health awareness will increase and its negative outcomes will decrease.
Liboro, R.M., Travers, R., & St. John, A. (2015). Beyond the Dialectics and Polemics: Canadian Catholic Schools Addressing LGBT Youth Issues. The High School Journal, 98(2), 158-180.
Shewchuk, S. (2014). Children in Need of Protection: Reporting Policies in Ontario Schools. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and School Policy, 162, 1-37.