UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Union County Public School (UCPS) Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan wants more social workers and psychotherapists inside the county's more than 50 schools.
He says there are not enough counselors to meet the needs of students, as the school system has only three social workers to serve the roughly 41,000 students.
This school year, the concern was so great the district placed a social worker in some of the neediest schools, but that resource is not shared among other schools.
"I firmly believe our mental health system is broken in this state," Houlihan said. "We have to fix it."
Houlihan believes that extra resource placed inside those challenged schools is making the difference.
"When it comes to safety oftentimes we are very reactive as a culture," the superintendent said.
Houlihan says this budget season he will request more money to get more social workers inside schools.
He wants UCPS to be the leader when it comes to pushing to get more social workers for students. He is getting his plan together now.
"We are looking at several options including an additional social worker perhaps for every cluster of schools, mental health therapists for schools and really teacher training," Houlihan said.
Elizabeth Stephens is a social worker at Marshville Elementary School. This is her first year at the school.
She works with students as young as 5 years old and says students experience challenging times just like adults.
She believes if social and emotional issues aren't handled properly, it can turn into a safety threat.
"You can notice students who are struggling, and those type of issues will carry on into middle school and high school and beyond," Stephens said. "It's important to address it early and try to put interventions in place."
Stephens says she wishes more resources were at schools to help students. The social worker is relieved the superintendent is looking for more money to hire more help.
"We are going to either ask for this above and beyond our current budget, or dig within our current budget and redirect resources," Houlihan said.
UCPS school board members will meet soon to discuss next year's budget.