Reopening Schools: 5 Ways to Expand and Strengthen Social, Emotional & Counseling Services

5-minute read

DMGroup is developing advice and support to assist schools and districts in planning and implementing a thoughtful reopening of schools after COVID-19-related closures. Here, we share what schools and districts can do now to prepare to meet increased demand for social, emotional, and counseling services.


As school and district leaders begin to look ahead to reopening schools next fall, many are concerned about their ability to meet the anticipated increased demand for social, emotional, and counseling services. Prior to school closures and the trauma brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools and staff already felt stretched thin when trying to meet the social, emotional, and counseling needs of students. After months of living in lockdown, disrupted schooling, and the trauma of sick loved ones, children will return to school needing more services than ever before. Staff will also return having faced many personal challenges themselves. 

Further complicating this challenge, both resources and capacity will likely shrink even as the need grows. Many are anticipating tighter school budgets in these unprecedented times. And, school psychologists will likely have to spend time addressing a backlog of missed IEP meetings upon returning to school, and preparing and attending every extra IEP meeting can take a day or more away from time available for counseling. 

Fortunately, a number of innovative yet practical strategies can help schools and districts address this challenge and expand and strengthen critical social, emotional, and counseling supports.

  1. Streamline meetings and paperwork for staff with critical mental health skills
  2. Typically, school psychologists, counselors, and social workers spend more than half of their day in meetings or doing paperwork, rather than working directly with students. The science of process mapping can reduce this time by a third, freeing up more of the day to provide critical supports to students and staff.

  3. Be proactive about spacing out and planning IEP meetings for designated times of the week
  4. With backed up IEP meetings from the spring, compliance requirements will reduce the time available for counseling if a proactive plan is not put in place. Setting aside fixed time slots for when IEP meetings will be held will preserve time for counseling services. Working with parents to roll over, delay, or amend IEPs without a meeting will help as well.

  5. Make social-emotional learning one of the classes in elementary specials rotation so that every student gets access to a professional every week
  6. As you design your SY 2020-2021 school schedule, consider establishing a social-emotional learning class as part of your elementary specials rotation along with P.E., art, music, etc. This will create a dedicated weekly time in which all students will have access to a professional and an opportunity to check on how students are doing.

  7. Consider a combination of small group and 1:1 counseling sessions to expand the reach of services
  8. As you seek to meet increased needs for social, emotional, and counseling supports, consider both small-group and one-to-one counseling to expand the reach of your services. This can triple the number of students being served and is widely used in community-based mental health settings but is often not common in schools.

  9. Expand partnerships with community-based mental health providers by dedicating a point person to find and manage the relationships
  10. Districts can often expand and enhance social, emotional, and counseling supports by strategically collaborating with outside partners such as local mental health agencies, non-profits, and universities. A small investment by dedicating a point person to cultivate, facilitate, and manage these relationships can lead to significant free or insurance-funded services.

To be sure, the need for social, emotional, and supports will have increased when something resembling normal schooling resumes in the fall. School districts, along with their staff and students, will benefit from action now to expand and strengthen these services.