New Jersey Policy Perspective, a nonpartisan think tank that drives policy change to advance economic justice, recently issued a report examining how access to school mental health staff changed for black, white, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian and other students over the past decade.

The think tank undertook its study amid concerns tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, fears about school shootings and federal data that shows 74% of schools in the Northeast report more students seeking mental health services since the onset of the pandemic.

Its analysis of available data showed that while access to mental health staff for white and Asian students has increased over the past several years, it has decreased for Black and Latinx students.

That compares with a decade ago, when Black and Hispanic/Latinx students had more access to mental health staff compared with white students – who now have a small advantage, according to the report.

“Given New Jersey’s much higher poverty rates for children of color, and the profound influence poverty has on mental health, these trends are a cause for great concern,” the report states. “Additionally, studies show that school districts that enroll more students of color are more likely to impose disciplinary actions on their students, compounding this growing inequity. In other words: New Jersey’s Black and Hispanic/Latinx students are more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be suspended from school, even as their access to mental health professionals is decreasing.”

The report drills down into the access various groups of students have had over time to school counselors, school nurses and social workers. It notes that schools with higher percentages of Black or Hispanic/Latinx students tend to have students that miss more days as a result of suspension. Several graphs are included in the report.

“Some may argue that these trends in school mental health staffing reflect a move toward parity: A decade ago, white students had less access to these staff than children of color, but now their access is equivalent,” the report states. “This argument, however, fails to recognize a basic truth: New Jersey’s students of color are more likely to live in poverty than the state’s white students and, as a result, have greater mental health needs.”

Read the full report.