10 Questions With…
Student Support and Health Services Director Victoria Flores

e-Connections Post

May is Mental Health Month, an opportunity for the community to learn about the damaging effects of stigma. Wear green on Thursday, May 5 – National Child Mental Health Day – and throughout the month to show your support for erasing stigmas.

Here, SCUSD’s Student Support and Health Services Director Victoria Flores discusses student mental health support and the role it plays in education.

Name: Victoria Flores

Age: 42

Hometown: Sacramento

Education: Flores is an SCUSD alumna who graduated from Hiram Johnson High School. She earned a BA in Psychology from UC Davis, MSW from UC Berkeley, PPS credential from CSUS and an Administrative Credential from the SCOE Leadership Institute.

Previously: Flores served as the Student Support Center Coordinator at Rosa Parks K-8 School for four years. Before SCUSD, she worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities, foster youth, and provided mental health services to children and adults. 

Favorite Quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

10 Questions for Victoria Flores:

SCUSD is committed to providing students with a “whole child” education. What does that mean to you?

Serving the whole child means – if they are hungry we feed them, if they are cold we give them warm clothes, if they are hurt we help heal them….

Students need to have healthy bodies and minds to engage in learning.  When our students experience barriers to learning, such as hunger, homelessness, medical issues, bullying or trauma, they need access to coordinated services and supports to address these pressing needs.  Whether we are helping our students access basic resources or helping them developing coping skills or learn stress management, when they are in our schools we meet their needs.

The partnership between educators and support services professionals allows our district to meet the whole child’s needs. 

What role does mental health play in a child’s academic success?

Mental illness causes a disruption in a child’s thinking, mood, perception and behavior. A child struggling with anxiety, depression, attention or other mental health disorders, has greater barriers to retaining lessons offered in the classroom due to these disruptions. Children with mental health problems may miss as many as 18 to 22 days of school, a chronic absence problem that contributes to low academic achievement. Children with mental health disorders are capable of achievement. However, without effective treatment they often fall behind their peers in academic achievement. 

How common are mental health disorders among children?

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five students lives with a mental health condition, which equates to roughly 9,400 SCUSD students. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of children get the care they need. We also know that schools are the single greatest access point for children’s mental health care; 70 percent to 80 percent of children who are lucky enough to receive care, get it at their schools!

How important is early detection?

Through early detection and quality treatment, students who suffer from mental health disorders can not only achieve but excel in the classroom, in careers and in life! Mental health is treatable when education, supports and services are provided. Studies indicate that early detection and treatment of mental health disorders is linked with recovery and life success.

How does your department support children with mental health issues?

The Student Support and Health Services department continues to work hard at helping end the stigma around mental health and raise awareness about the physical and mental health/education connection, and offer services to students and families in need. 

Student Support Centers and The Connect Center provide strengths-based intervention services for students and their families in a wide range of supports, including specialization in mental health and crisis intervention. Student Support Centers are at 22 SCUSD schools and The Connect Center is centrally located serving the remaining schools.

Additional direct services are also provided by a Bullying Prevention Specialist, LGBTQ Advocate, Homeless Services Coordinator and Health Enrollment Specialist. Within Health Services, school nurses provide critical health services in various departments and school sites, ensuring our students can see, hear and manage their health conditions.  

The department also works to strengthen systems of support and professional development at the district level, providing critical trainings and managing district response to emergencies. My department provides suicide risk assessment and intervention training and support for appropriate SCUSD staff, such as school counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.

Equipping our staff with the tools needed to help students during a crisis helps our students stay safe and get access to care when needed. 

Additionally, SSHS coordinates and trains the Crisis Response Team, a therapeutic support team of school social workers and psychologists, who respond to school sites facing crisis situations. The team ensures systems are in place to secure and support students, staff, families and partners in the event of death, disaster or other crisis.

SCUSD is partnering with the national Youth Mental Health First Aid initiative. What is that?

We are excited this Mental Health Month to announce our partnership with the national Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) initiative to provide training to parents, teachers, administrators, staff, community partners and community members.

Just like CPR or first aid teaches life-saving techniques, Youth Mental Health First Aid develops trainees’ knowledge and skills in recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental heath concerns and how to access help. As suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death for young people, the skills and resources provided are truly life-saving.

How can I learn more about the initiative or sign up for a training session?

Join the movement to stop the stigma regarding mental health, and offer a lifeline to a young person you encounter. Free evidenced-based Youth Mental Health First Aid classes are offered throughout the summer and school year. To learn more about classes offered please contact SSHS at (916) 643-9252.

How can individuals raise awareness of the stigma associated with those who have mental health disorders?

Reading this article is the first step. To borrow a line from the Stop Stigma campaign: “Mental illness does not discriminate, but people do.”  Please share the information you have learned, visit the Student Support and Health Services webpage to learn more, or attend a YMHFA class.  We invite the whole SCUSD community to wear green during the month of May, and especially on May 5, National Child Mental Health Day, to acknowledge the importance of mental health supports for all students! Talking about difficult topics is how we break down stereotypes and shift our mindset.

Are attitudes about mental health changing?

I believe attitudes are shifting in a positive direction, as the conversation about the importance of mental health is bridging into mainstream culture and into various languages. Social media campaigns are shaping the conversation, such as breaking down stereotypes and talking about effective evidenced-based treatments, strategies that help, and offering hope. There is hope for our youth struggling with mental health issues – they just need someone to notice, listen and get them help.  To learn more visit stopstigmasacramento.org.

What’s your goal in this work?

I became a social worker because I believe in the power of change and the potential for growth in all people. Therefore, my goal is simple but far reaching: That our community pulls together to be the change we hope to see in the world and in each other. This can be achieved through each one of us taking personal responsibility for our youth’s mental and physical well-being. Be the change every day!