Children with access to school-based health centers are more likely to receive physical, dental and mental health services, as well as immunizations and treatment for chronic conditions like asthma. This can make a big difference for kids, especially those who might have trouble accessing health care elsewhere. One study found that low-income adolescents using school-based health centers were over one and a half times more likely to have a preventive health care visit and 50 percent less likely to go to the emergency room. Given the benefits of preventive care, one study found school-based health centers can decrease hospitalization costs by as much as 84 percent for patients with asthma.
Providing students with school-based health services has other crucial benefits. One study found that students who received mental health services at school showed a 31 percent decrease in course failure, a 32 percent decrease in absences and a 95 percent decrease in discipline referrals. Another study found that students who used school-based health services had an average grade increase from C+ to B-. School-based health care recipients are also more likely to advance to the next grade (90 percent compared to 83 percent of non-recipients), and more likely to feel confident in reaching their goals, succeeding in school and going to college.
Despite the many obvious benefits, only 29 percent of California school districts have school nurses on staff to provide care, and only two percent of California schools have a full school-based health center.
Pro-Kid® Policy Agenda
California should increase capacity of school-based health centers so that more children are able to access physical, mental, vision and dental health services at schools, where kids spend the majority of their time. This will improve children’s well-being, increase their access to preventive care and lighten the load for busy families.
California children lag behind kids in other states when it comes to accessing health care services at school. Programs in counties like Alameda and Los Angeles are great examples of the ways schools can meet the health care needs of their students. Unfortunately, these efforts aren’t yet being scaled statewide. Notably, California has failed to fund the Early Mental Health Initiative and the California Children’s Dental Disease Prevention Program, two proven in-school programs. A federal policy change and new state legislation allow school districts to get Medicaid reimbursements for health services provided to eligible students. This is an early step in the right direction, but ensuring effective implementation is critical. Many schools have reduced their available health care services, so effectively implementing this policy will give districts an improved revenue source, while promoting the health and well-being of California students, especially in low-income districts.