COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children met to discuss the current state of mental health services available for South Carolina students.

An audit conducted by the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) found there was one counselor for every 1,300 students in South Carolina. There was high demand for their services as well.

The joint committee said suicide was the leading cause of death for children in South Carolina between the ages of 10 to 14 in 2019 and 2020. It was the second leading cause of death behind car accidents in 2021.

Officials suggest raising salaries for counselors, give school districts to option to hire counselors from the Department of Mental Health, hire their own staff, or work with a third party to provide these services.

There is also a big need for more counselors.

During a meeting this week, DHHS Director Robbie Kerr told the committee they are making strides to address the lack of new mental health counselors.

“We have contracted with the University of South Carolina’s school of psychiatry to do two things,” Kerr said. “One, to provide education services to the schools on how to integrate and train counselors in the schools. Also to develop a scholarship fund to help get workers in the field in the future.”

DHHS said starting July 1, Medicaid reimbursement rates for non-DMH counselors are increasing, which they said will allow schools to work with private counselors, if needed.

Their goal is to cut the 1,300:1 ratio in half in the next year and to decrease that even more in the future.