What’s Going Right for Kids’ Well-Being When a Lot Feels Wrong | By: Katherine Seibel It can be easy to feel discouraged about the state of youth mental health in the US. As detailed in the 2021 Surgeon General’s Advisory, young people in America face significant challenges to their emotional well-being. Families and educators share concerns about youth mental health and agree that additional support is needed for students, especially as students return to the classroom following pandemic-related closures and begin to recover lost learning and socialize in person with peers. Students say that developing life skills such as managing emotions, setting goals, and building friendships (often referred to as social-emotional learning) is vital to feeling safe and supported at school. Federal and state lawmakers are responding to support young people. How does helping students build life skills benefit children and families? Life skill-building is a process that begins at home and can be nurtured in the classroom. A majority of parents and caretakers want their children to learn life skills such as confidence, effective communication, and self-discipline. Building these skills helps promote mental wellness and can mitigate risk factors for substance use, bullying, and suicide. Young people report that the integration of social, emotional, and cognitive learning support at school increases their sense of being valued. High school students who said they felt close and connected to people at school less frequently reported negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental wellness. Families want their children to be able to learn in a safe and positive school environment where they can develop skills that will enable them to succeed at school and in the future. What are lawmakers doing to support kids’ well-being? State and federal lawmakers are taking meaningful steps forward to improve kids’ well-being. Here are some highlights from across the country. Congress is paying attention to youth mental wellness, with support on both sides of the political aisle. Learn more about recent congressional hearings addressing youth mental health here and here. Alabama passed an education budget into law that includes $3 million in funding for the state’s bullying prevention project. The funding can be used to promote a safe school environment, inclusive of bullying prevention curricula. Colorado passed a budget that includes funding for bullying prevention and for a K–5 social-emotional learning pilot program. Connecticut passed several bipartisan bills to address the youth mental health crisis and increase supports in schools. Florida passed legislation to require students to receive instruction on life skills, including self-awareness and self-management, responsible decision-making, resiliency, conflict resolution and relationship skills, and understanding and respecting other viewpoints and backgrounds. This is an important part of primary prevention for young people, helping them build skills to support their wellness and academic success while mitigating risk factors that can develop into a crisis. Indiana lawmakers listened to a wide range of parents, educators, faith leaders, and community members and chose not to pass a bill that would have hampered teachers’ abilities and students’ opportunities to develop skills that would meet the state’s Employability Skills Standards. The Maryland legislature passed a bill awaiting Governor Hogan’s signature that would require teacher preparation programs to include methods and techniques for identifying and addressing the social-emotional needs of students. It would also require virtual schools to offer students an interactive social-emotional wellness component designed for a virtual environment. New Mexico appropriated funding (inclusive of social-emotional learning) for summer and out-of-school time programs for under-resourced families in the Albuquerque area. New York allocated funding to address learning loss with evidence-based out-of-school time supports. Washington State passed a supplemental budget with investments in multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) to help strengthen districts’ ability to adopt evidence-based strategies that address the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. How can you get involved? Committee for Children works to ensure that all children can live safely and thrive by building skills that they need to succeed at school and in life. Sign up here to get involved with Committee for Children’s efforts to advocate for federal and state policies that will support young people’s well-being.