We at Red Flags National are very aware of the struggles schools experience meeting the heavy requirements placed on them to achieve academic benchmarks while providing for the diverse learning needs of their students. Schools are profoundly burdened with unfunded mandates from federal and state legislatures, and with demands from parents to accommodate children with special learning abilities or disabilities. Besides meeting academic standards, schools are additionally burdened with providing for the safety of their students in the face of recent incidents of violence on school property. Meanwhile, cuts in governmental funding of schools increase the anxiety of relying on levies and the rare generosity of taxpayers.
We believe that mental health is a public health concern, and schools cannot be expected to resolve every social problem. So why is Red Flags school-based mental health education, and where does it fit among the dizzying programs available to schools?
First, Red Flags is not a program. It is a concept based on the principle that the work of schools is the formation of young minds. We wouldn’t think of expecting a child to go through the school day without lunch or recess, because we know that learning and teaching cannot occur if the child is not alert and physically healthy. If physical health is essential to the ability of a child to learn, how much more so is mental health. Simply put, a child who is hurting, anxious, distracted, afraid, angry, or confused is going to have a hard time succeeding academically.
Red Flags is a concept in action. It outlines a basic framework for promoting sound mental health and it provides a toolkit for implementing that framework. It teaches the skills and reinforces the habits that help to foster sound emotional and behavioral health, and it provides a process for obtaining assistance at the onset of a mental health concern. Developed by both educators and parents of kids with mental health needs, Red Flags was formed in the trenches of adolescent mental health. It fits into schools and speaks to the real needs of kids. Honed by 16 years of continuous use and revision, Red Flags works; reducing stigma, supporting emotional and behavioral growth, providing a process for early intervention. Simple, easy to implement, flexible, inexpensive, and effective; Red Flags provides the school with a foundational substructure keeping awareness of students’ mental health gently on the radar and allowing for the seamless integration of other social/emotional programs as the need arises.