Growing pains aren't just physical maladies. At least 20 percent of children need mental health services, but often they fall through the cracks at schools, which are often poorly equipped to give them the help they need.
Schools that have health centers on site are the exception. Three-quarters of these clinics provide not only primary care but mental health services as well. Many also provide dental care.
They're often located in urban or rural areas that are considered medically underserved. But unfortunately, they're all too rare. Only about 1,900 of all the 133,000 K-12 schools in the country have these comprehensive clinics on site.
The centers got a recent boost when the Department of Health and Human Services said it would award $95 million in grants to 278 school-based health center programs to build, renovate or equip clinics. The health care law appropriated $200 million in funding for fiscal years 2010 through 2013; another round of grants is expected to be announced next summer.
In May, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to defund the section of the health law that created those clinics, but the Democratically-controlled Senate has not considered the bill.
The grants will allow the programs to increase the number of patients they serve to 1.2 million, a more than 50 percent jump from the current 790,000. Some of the grant money will be aimed specifically at improving mental health services, according to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care, an advocacy organization. In Maryland, for example, a new building will be constructed for North Dorchester High School's health center that will contain video-conferencing equipment for students who need off-site psychiatry services.
"The things that kids need help with are frequently social and behavioral," says Linda Juszczak, executive director of the NASBHC. "Mental health services are absolutely critical."