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Survey Finds Only 12 States Mandate Elementary-School Counseling Services

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By Deborah L. Cohen

Despite evidence that counseling programs can help ease barriers to learning faced by troubled elementary-school students, only 12 states mandate such services and only 8 back up their mandates with state funding, according to a new survey.

The authors of the report by the American Association for Counseling and Development and the National Conference of State Legislatures say it is the first to compile research from the past two decades "supporting the need for professional school counselors at the elementary-school level."

Approached correctly, the report states, elementary-school counseling "is a preventive measure that appears to result in long-term, positive outcomes."

The report, "Children Achieving Potential," cites studies showing reduced suspension and dropout rates, higher attendance levels, superior academic achievement, and improved behavior and attitudes among children who received counseling.

Early Intervention Cited

The authors cite an increasing awareness among educators and human-services professionals of the need to intervene early to help children cope with a range of societal and family problems and curb the high incidence of teenage dropouts, pregnancy, suicide, substance abuse, and other "self-destructive behaviors."

"If we wait until children are in middle and senior high school to address the reasons behind the statistics, we have already lost the opportunity to have an effective impact on helping them achieve their potential," said Harriet Glosoff, a certified counselor and a co-author of the report for the a.a.c.d.

Besides aiding children identified as at risk of developing learning problems, the authors maintain, such programs can benefit students with less obvious symptoms who are not performing to their potential.

An effective school-counseling program, the report states, should involve a team of school staff members and parents, with qualified elementary-school counselors at its core. It should include classroom activities; individual and group counseling; referrals to community agencies; consultation with teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders; crisis intervention; and assessment, placement, and follow-up services.

The activities, the report says, should help children gain self-understanding; improve their social and communication skills; and bolster their study habits, attitudes toward school, and awareness of "the world of work."

50-State Survey

The report also highlights the results of a 50-state survey examining states' counseling policies and funding sources.

While every state reported that it has some elementary-school counselors, the authors say many states lack adequate numbers of trained counselors or funding to implement counseling mandates. In addition to the 12 states that now have mandates for counseling, another 12 are considering them, according to the report.

However, the report cautions, "mandates are not necessarily help8ful and in fact can be burdensome without financial assistance."

The authors cite Arkansas, Virginia, Florida, Texas, and Washington State as examples of states that have aggressively pursued strong counseling policies.

The report also offers suggestions on setting realistic counselor/student ratios, freeing up counselors' time and schedules, and allowing adequate start-up periods to implement counseling mandates.

It also recommends the establishment of pilot projects with comprehensive evaluation plans to serve as models for state efforts and guidance committees comprising teachers, parents, administrators, and business people to act as liaisons between the school and the community.

Copies of the report are available for $10 each (for first-class postal service and same-day processing, include an additional $1.50 per book) from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Book Order Department, 1050 17th St., Suite 2100, Denver, Colo. 80265, and the American Association for Counseling and Development, Order Services, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, Va. 22304; telephone (703) 823-9800.

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