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Whole Child Policy Overview

The whole child approach to education uses policies that foster safe, healthy learning environments where all students can thrive and achieve academic success. A whole child-centered education encompasses all areas of student development and learning. This approach includes school climate, student mental health, social-emotional learning, workforce skill-building, out-of-school learning opportunities and adult capacity building. 

Learning Policy Institute’s Whole Child Policy Toolkit

LPI designed the Whole Child Policy Toolkit to provide state policymakers and education leaders with strategies, tools and resources related to whole child policy. This is a living document and is regularly updated. This document came out of work from the Whole Child Policy Table, which has members from state-facing membership organizations, researchers and policy groups that work on whole child education issues.  

Landscape of Whole Child Education in Advisory Group States

NCSL’s advisory group includes legislators and legislative staff from 12 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Vermont. The legislators are members of health and human services, children and youth and various education committees.  

Student Mental Health

States have been enacting policies to address student mental health needs by increasing access to mental health services in schools, providing training for educators on identifying and supporting students' mental health, and implementing comprehensive mental health programs that prioritize prevention, early intervention, and support services. These legislative efforts aim to create a supportive and inclusive environment where students can thrive both academically and emotionally, ensuring that their mental health needs are met alongside their educational development. 

Mental Health Professionals in Schools

Many states have enacted legislation that focuses on increasing access to mental health services in schools by requiring or encouraging the presence of qualified mental health professionals, such as counselors, psychologists and social workers. These mental health professionals provide assessments, counseling, crisis intervention and other mental health supports to students. State legislation often includes provisions for training and professional development opportunities for these professionals, as well as strategies to integrate mental health services into the broader school framework.  

Social-Emotional Learning

Whole child legislation also looks at social-emotional learning (SEL). State policies focused on SEL look to promote the development of critical skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These policies often include the integration of SEL programs into the curriculum, providing training for educators on implementing SEL strategies, and creating supportive and inclusive school climates that prioritize students' social and emotional needs.  

Community Schools

Community schools are a key component of whole child legislation, as they prioritize the comprehensive well-being of students by addressing their academic, social, emotional and physical needs. These schools serve as hubs that bring together various community partners, resources, and services to support students and their families. State legislation focused on community schools often provides funding and support for the establishment and expansion of these schools, emphasizing the importance of collaboration between schools, community organizations and local government agencies.  

Building Adult Capacity

Many states have enacted legislation that focuses on providing professional development opportunities for educators and school staff to enhance their knowledge and skills in areas such as social and emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, cultural competence, and inclusive teaching strategies. State legislation often includes provisions for funding, training programs, and collaboration with external partners to promote ongoing professional growth and capacity building among school personnel. 

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