The Children's Guild, Author at The Children's Guild

Mental Well-Being Starts Young

(This is an updated post from one originally published on April 14, 2022)

Young people in the U.S. are facing real mental health challenges today, and the problem has been getting worse—even before the pandemic, virtual school, and recent world conflicts.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy describes mental health as “the defining public health crisis of our time.” He points to youth in particular. In December 2021, he issued a warning that mental health illnesses are leading to “devastating effects” among young people. In fact, the suicide rate for Americans 10 to 19 increased by 40 percent from 2001 to 2019, and emergency room visits for self-harm rose by 88 percent.


In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study on adolescent well-being and the effects of poor mental health. Broad takeaways include an increase in the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health, the fact that building strong bonds and connections to youth can protect mental health, and that schools and parents should create protective relationships with students and help them grow into healthy adulthood.

The CDC study recently produced some troubling findings about high school kids:

    • In 2021, more than 4 in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless, and nearly one-third experienced poor mental health.
    • In 2021, more than 1 in 5 students seriously considered attempting suicide, and 1 in 10 attempted suicide.
    • Anxiety disorders afflict a third of all teens today.
    • LGBQ+ students, female students, and students across racial and ethnic groups were disproportionately affected.
    • Nearly half of LGBQ+ students in 2021 seriously considered suicide—far more than heterosexual students.
    • Black students were more likely to attempt suicide than students of other races and ethnicities.

Recent events like the pandemic contribute to social isolation, anxiety, and depression in kids of all ages. In fall 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association joined to declare a National State of Emergency regarding children’s mental health.

The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health outlines a series of recommendations that rely heavily on empowering youth and families, ensuring access to mental health care, supporting education, community and childcare settings, and expanding the early childhood and education workforce.


“We are completely in support of the Surgeon General’s goals, as they align with our priorities, as well,” said The Children’s Guild President and CEO Jenny Livelli.

It’s critical to have services available to meet kids where they are, whether a clinic- or school-based program. The Children’s Guild operates seven schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia that all provide free mental health services to students. An Outpatient Mental Health Clinic serves more than 80 additional public schools across Maryland. Clinicians specialize in working with children and families and are trained in trauma-informed treatment.

“By being right in the school for kids, we are reducing barriers to access,” says Jillian Szczepaniak-Gillece, Children’s Guild Director of Behavioral Health Services. “We want to help each young person and their family learn skills to address interpersonal, social, emotional, and academic challenges. We work with caregivers, families, school staff, and other involved agencies to provide individualized treatment that is strength-based, trauma-informed, and evidence-based.”


One key to improving mental health is making support accessible. So, The Children’s Guild services include psychiatric services, counseling, and school-based behavioral health. More than 1,400 children are positively impacted by their programs and services today.

Mental health conditions can be shaped by many factors. Genes and brain chemistry play a role. So does environment, such as life experiences and neighborhood conditions. Relationships with family and friends are important. There are also many social forces. Young people see messages daily through social media and popular culture that erode their feelings of self-worth. To face these challenges and others, The Children’s Guild offers a continuum of care founded in our approach to educating the whole child.


Our educational approach engages every student; fosters achievement, growth, and independence to the greatest extent possible; and gives experiences that meet the needs of every learner and help them thrive.

Our approach includes eight pillars to help us create a flexible, brain-compatible organizational culture that emphasizes the values, skills, and beliefs necessary for a successful life:

  1. There is an infusion of specific values, such as agile thinking and flexibility, throughout all aspects of our programs’ people, systems, environments, and curriculums.
  2. We comprehensively address our students’ emotional, social, cognitive, and behavioral needs. Our students are equipped with the skills needed to excel in their journey of personal growth through mindfulness exercises, positive relationships with adults, the development of self-regulation strategies, and so many other tools and resources to help them thrive.
  3. Our physical environments are intentionally used to shape the feeling, thinking, and behavior of all that are immersed in them. Our spaces are intentionally used to stimulate the intellect, excite the senses, and touch the emotions.
  4. Our students, staff, and parents are taught about how the brain learns so they become lifelong learners.
  5. We help our students develop effective self-regulation of their behavior through individualized, meaningful learning experiences before, during, and after behavioral incidents.
  6. Students are provided with the opportunity to experience the performing arts, visual arts, and music in their program and communities.
  7. Through community projects and advocacy, our students and staff positively impact the community in which they live.
  8. Our students and staff develop the skills to realistically approach problems, recognize their own contributions, take responsibility, and implement solutions.


As we participate in National Mental Health Awareness Month this May, it’s obvious the national focus on mental health is increasingly critical. “We need to build the foundation for healthier, more fulfilled, and more resilient youth, and The Children’s Guild is making that happen in the greater metro area around the nation’s capital,” said Livelli.

“We touch families and lives in meaningful, often highly impactful ways. That commitment has become even more critical in our complex world.”

The Children’s Guild also seeks partnerships and growth opportunities of all kinds. Should you want to learn more or see the work they do in area schools, please contact them anytime at 410.444.3800. 

A Few Important Resources:

Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools: An Action Guide for School Administrators and Leaders (US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) 

Mental Health for Adolescents (US Department of Health & Human Services)

Children’s Mental Health (US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Schools Need Special Education Teachers: Where Are They Going, And Where Are They Coming From?

Some concerning numbers about hiring problems and shortages have come from schools recently. More than half of all schools report feeling understaffed, and the two biggest problem areas are special education and math.

The Children’s Guild operates three non-public schools (The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, and The Children’s Guild – Transformation Academy), serving students with behavioral and academic challenges that are usually caused by diagnosed disabilities such as emotional disability, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developmental disabilities, and more. We know firsthand the shortages and difficulty in finding special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, school social workers and clinicians, and therapeutic behavioral aides and classroom aides.

Here, we look at why this is happening.


A nationwide survey of schools in 2022 reported special education teacher vacancies were nearly twice that of other subject areas. Some 65% of public schools in the US reported being understaffed in special education. More than 78% reported difficulty in hiring special education staff.

Yet more than 7.5 million US students — 15% of all students — have disabilities that qualify them for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Public and private schools are desperate for special education professionals of all kinds. Special educator shortages are a long-standing challenge in most states, and the problem has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.


Educators are both leaving the profession as well as choosing not to join it today. One reason for leaving is burnout, caused by the high demands of the job and inadequate support and resources. Teachers undergoing stress for a long time become emotionally exhausted and lose any sense of personal accomplishment.

The pandemic exacerbated problems for all teachers, especially special education teachers. Studies showed that many special educators met clinical criteria for generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder — in rates several times greater than those in the general U.S. population. The pandemic had moderate to extreme impacts on stress, depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion, as well.

The idea of socially distanced learning was difficult for any teacher, but much more so for special education teachers who rely on high engagement and high touch in their work.

Attrition of special education teachers is 2.5 times that of teachers in general education.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for special education teachers and related service providers requires that every teacher must:

  • Hold at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Obtain full certification in their state or pass the state special education teacher licensing exam

States are not allowed to waive special education certification or licensure on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.


Fast-tracking special education teachers by reducing requirements for entry is actually counterproductive. Underprepared special education teachers are less effective and even more likely to leave the field.

Improved working conditions, however, can help with special education teacher retention. Studies show that special educators who provided stronger instruction had a trusted partner co-leading their program, consistent paraprofessionals to help, and adequate time and support for training.

In addition, The Children’s Guild’s own Baltimore Principal, Dr. Katina Webster, testified in early 2023 before the Maryland Senate on Maryland Senate Bill 311 to advocate for a pay increase for special education teachers. By July 1, 2023, the act took full effect. Read this short article to understand what this means for special education teachers in Maryland.

Looking for other solutions? Preparation and qualifications matter. Strong induction programs and mentorship help. District and university partnerships help, as well. There are many financial incentives besides higher pay – loan forgiveness and tuition remission programs offer more prepared and effective teachers.


Retention is enabled in positive school climates with a supportive administration where all teachers share responsibility for student achievement, enjoy administrative support, and work with collaborative colleagues.

The Children’s Guild recently embarked on a listening tour among our schools and programs to help build up employee retention and engagement. We were concerned about stats that stood out to us as problematic at our non-public special education schools and our public charter schools alike, such as low trust in leadership and values and daily work misalignment, among others. For more detailed insights, you can refer to the original Gallup articles: Diagnosing a Broken Culture and Worrying Workplace Numbers .

Implementing employee feedback and recognition tools – and ensuring that employees feel heard and leadership remains accountable for implementing changes – can help all educators build increased trust between front-line staff and management. Hopefully a refocus on employee engagement will help our country’s special education professionals feel supported and help our organizations thrive. Learn more about our approach, here: Our People Matter.

Also, we suggest reading, “Strategies to build a sustainable special education teacher workforce” from the National Council on Teacher Quality.


Special ed teachers are in high demand today – in every school district across the U.S. Shortages are an issue, and getting worse. With more than 60% of students with disabilities spending at least 80% of their day in general classes, the need for special educators and their skills in customized curriculums that are accessible to students with disabilities is more essential than ever.

LinkedIn Talent Solutions on Hiring Special Education Teachers.


Our students need specialized instructors to succeed. In 2024, our non-public schools have partnered with The Children’s Guild HR team to create hiring events at their schools. These events conduct in-person and onsite interviews, and applicants have the opportunity to be hired immediately and begin the onboarding process in the same day.

Many of the jobs that are open also come with a sign-on bonus for special education teachers and staff and pay above the national average for most positions. We have already hired several amazing special education staff from these events and are hopeful that we will continue to reach those who are looking to build a meaningful career in special education.

You can learn more about upcoming hiring events here: Get Hired

Once hired, our special education teachers are welcomed into a culture of support and listening. We are confident that this can help all our educators grow in trust of our leadership. If you are interested in learning more about how we are creating a culture of trust and collaboration, you can download our resources here: Our People Matter


Our People Matter: The Power of Employee Engagement – view our presentation

Last week at NATCON in St. Louis, Missouri, the largest national conference in mental health and substance use treatment, Jenny Livelli and Elizabeth Garcia presented a poster session: Our People Matter: The Power of Employee Engagement.

Employee engagement is crucial in today’s workplace as it fosters productivity, innovation, and a positive work culture ultimately leads to higher retention rates and organizational success. Engaged employees are more likely to be committed, collaborative, and actively contributing to the organization’s goals and objectives.

In response to troubling workplace trends, The Children’s Guild proactively initiated measures to lay a positive foundation. This presentation outlined the steps taken during this process and the subsequent outcomes achieved.

Click here to view the presentation and you’ll also find free tools and resources you can download and customize for your organization.

Watch this 60-second video which outlines the process of our listening tour and how it has played a critical role in retaining our staff.

Nearly 100 visitors stopped by during their 30-minute session to learn how The Children’s Guild set “listening” as more than just a policy, but the foundation of building belonging in our organization to build community which is the key to our collective success.  Hundreds more will have access to the presentation for a full year via the National Council website.

Beyond explaining our listening tour, this presentation shared 5 tools TCG is using to ensure employees feel heard and recognized:

  1. Energy Check: helps everyone in a meeting take a moment to become present to themselves and the other participants.
  2. The Scoop: organizational newsletter to streamline internal communications.
  3. Town Halls and DEI Town Halls: held monthly across various topics.
  4. Meeting Norms: standardize what is expected in video and in-person meetings.
  5. Culture Card: short, daily meetings to review values, policy and give shout-outs.

One of our participants said it best, “There is a shortage of qualified workers in our industry, so retaining our current staff is critical so we can operate successfully and provide families the care they desperately need”.

Employee recognition has become a key element of our culture at The Children’s Guild. From informally celebrating our “good news” and successes, to official Awards at our Annual Summit, we are now more likely to recognize what we do well and be proud about it.

Following the implementation of these and additional initiatives, notable improvements have been observed, including heightened trust between front-line staff and management, enhanced staff recognition, and increased engagement. We hope you find success, too! Our team is the foundation and backbone of our good works – let’s do this, together!

Bryan Daniels, Principal Of The Children’s Guild Dc Public Charter School Named Finalist In The Washington Post Principal Of The Year Award

Bryan Daniels, Principal of The Children’s Guild DC Public Charter School was named a finalist in the Washington Post Principal of the Year Award.  Bryan’s nomination was submitted to the DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), an independent government agency of the District of Columbia, which provides oversight to 134 public charter schools, who selected Bryan as their finalist. According to the submission, Principal Bryan Daniels is a dynamic leader who has earned the respect of both staff and students throughout his 21-year tenure by creating a nurturing and productive learning environment. He is a firm believer in fostering a culture of excellence and creativity and is constantly looking for new ways to engage and inspire his students.

Each year, The Washington Post recognizes Washington metropolitan area educators who exemplify excellence in their profession. The Principal of the Year Award aims to recognize principals who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their position to create an exceptional educational environment for their staff and students.

I have had the privilege of working closely with Bryan over the years, and I can attest to his exceptional leadership skills and dedication to the students and staff of our school.  We congratulate Bryan on being named a finalist by the prestigious Washington Post.  It is nice for others to recognize what we who work with him already know.

~ Jenny Livelli, President and CEO, The Children’s Guild


“Congratulations to The Children’s Guild for naming Bryan Daniels, a great candidate for the Washington Post Principal of the Year award! We were so excited and #DCCharterProud to submit Bryan Daniel’s information to The Post and thrilled that he was named a finalist,” said a spokesperson for DC PCSB.

One of the key ways in which Principal Daniels inspires excellence is through his focus on student achievement. He sets high expectations for his students and encourages them to strive for their best. He also provides them with the resources and multiple supports they need to reach their full potential through individualized classroom support, curriculum programming, and dynamic wrap-around services. Every Wednesday, the entire school participates in professional development. This year’s instructional focus was on small group instruction and teacher intellectual prep. Through his leadership, the school has seen a significant increase in academic performance and a decrease in disciplinary issues. During the recent school year, 10% of students scored a 4 on the PARCC exams and over 70% of students met their iReady growth goals.

“When you walk through the doors of The Children’s Guild DC Public Charter School, it feels like family. Bryan kicks off the day at his morning staff meeting with music pumping to lift your spirits, a welcoming smile, and a message that reminds each of us why we chose to serve children and families. Bryan then moves out of the way to allow his staff to deliver their message and “shout outs” adding to the positive start to the day. On hard days, Bryan comes in with his head held high making sure that his staff know that they come first. He keeps it real; he doesn’t shy away from hard moments in the lives of those in the building but rather wraps his staff with support necessary to be prepared for the students that will shortly arrive,” said Jenny Livelli, President and CEO, The Children’s Guild. “I have had the privilege of working closely with Bryan over the years, and I can attest to his exceptional leadership skills and dedication to the students and staff of our school. We congratulate Bryan on being named a finalist by the prestigious Washington Post. It is nice for others to recognize what we who work with him already know.”

“When Bryan learned that The Children’s Guild had decided to open a charter school specializing in serving special education and regular education in the DC community, he was ecstatic and accepted a leadership position. Bryan grew up in DC and attended school in DC, so he had always hoped his career would provide him with the opportunity to give back to the community that had raised him so well. Bryan’s deep commitment to connecting with the local DC community is remarkable. He is passionate about ensuring that equitable access to education is available to all students and has prioritized building solid partnerships with community organizations and local leaders. His persistent determination to positively impact the student’s lives in the District is truly inspiring,” said Elizabeth Garcia, MSSA, MNO, LCSW-C, Chief People Officer, The Children’s Guild.

A Closer Look At Early Intervention For Kids

There are many services available to support families that have young children with developmental delays and disabilities. These include diagnosis, speech and physical therapy, and other services based on needs. Early intervention has a significant impact on learning skills and overcoming challenges and offers a child more success in school and beyond. As leaders in special education, The Children’s Guild recognizes the importance of early intervention as well as the continual support of students with special needs in our communities.


Early intervention is the term for the various services that support kids from birth to three years with developmental delays or disabilities. In addition to what your pediatrician or a specialist can provide, early intervention programs are available in every state for families who meet their state’s criteria for developmental delay. However, programs can be hard to find and difficult to navigate for the average family.


Neural circuits in a child’s brain are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health, and are most adaptable in a child’s first three years. Early intervention is designed to prevent more significant behavioral challenges among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


If you have developmental concerns with your child, starting with therapies as quickly as possible can make a difference. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends acting as soon as possible, telling your doctor your concerns, speaking with school teachers and counselors, asking for a referral to a specialist, and contacting your state’s early intervention program.

Publicly funded programs that are free of charge or offered at a reduced cost are available around the country.

It can be hard to start this conversation with your doctor. It’s best to be specific and use detailed written notes to keep track of what you’ve noticed and who you’ve communicated with. Follow along with these recommendations to share your development concerns with your pediatrician and other specialists. If you have to wait for an evaluation (and this is common), make the most of your wait time by reading, singing, playing, and making crafts with your child. The CDC recommends that you “talk to the child, label household items, point out interesting things, tell stories, comment about what you see and how you feel, and explain how things work and why things happen. Your child may not always seem to be listening, but he or she may be hearing more than you think.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free Milestone Tracker App for parents. From birth to 5 years, a child will typically reach certain milestones in play, learning, speaking, acting, and moving. The app helps you track your child’s development and act early if there’s a concern.

If you’re looking for a support network for advice and guidance, check organizations like Family Voices, or call 1-888-835-5669.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends developmental and behavioral screening for all children during regular well-child visits at nine months, 18 months and 30 months. They also recommend that all children be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child visits at 18 and 24 months.

If your child is at higher risk due to preterm birth, low birthweight, or environmental risks like lead exposure, you might also want to at additional screening.


If you’re concerned about your child’s development, don’t wait. Talk to someone. Every child is different, but you know your child best. Acting early can make a real difference. Once a child is school age, ask if they are eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and if they can access wrap-around services during the school day. The Children’s Guild offers these services in all of our preschools, charter schools, and non-public schools. Behavior therapists, social workers, speech language pathologists, mental health counseling, and other specialists can help educate the whole child with a focus on social and emotional learning. Every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and these services can help identify goals unique to your young learner.

You can reference this useful Fact Sheet on Developmental Monitoring and Screening from the CDC, in English and Spanish.

Remember that early intervention isn’t just about addressing challenges. It’s about unlocking potential, fostering growth, and nurturing every child’s unique ability. By embracing early intervention, you can feel empowered and view every milestone achieved as a testament to the incredible resilience within your child. Together, let’s continue to advocate for and invest in early intervention programs. With a commitment to inclusion, we can create a world where every child, regardless of their abilities, can achieve their dreams.