Graduate School of Nursing Dissertations

Publication Date


Document Type

Dissertation, Doctoral


Graduate School of Nursing

Dissertation Committee Chair

Susan Sullivan-Bolayi


School Nursing, Students, Mental Health Services, Early Medical Intervention, Mental Disorders, Children

Subject Categories

Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Mental and Social Health | Mental Disorders | Nursing | Pediatric Nursing


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore school nurses’ (SN) perceptions of factors influencing their ability to identify, refer, and provide mental health services to students with early signs of mental, emotional, and behavioral (MEB) needs. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine have urged a preventive public health approach to decrease adverse outcomes of unidentified and untreated MEB needs among children (O’Connell, 2009). Historically and theoretically based in public health, SN have daily contact with students and are in an optimal location for early identification, referral and provision of services, yet little empirical research describing their role is available.

Five focus groups with 29 SN were conducted and four themes emerged through analysis of data: Frequent flyers : student visits to SN offices, the observations that alert SN to potential MEB needs; Digging to get the whole picture : the process SN frequently used to collect information necessary to confirm MEB needs; Road to referral : the resources used and barriers encountered within the referral process; and, Safety zone : the important role SN play in the provision of services to students with early signs of MEB needs. Within the provision of services was a collective subtheme across all five focus groups: What we need to better help our kids. In this category SN identified their educational limitations and learning needs, as well as potential strategies to improve provision of services for students with MEB needs.

The findings of this study provide a lens into the complex and little explored are of early identification, referral and intervention processes used by SN to care for students with MEB needs. Understanding the role of the SN is a critical first step towards improving outcomes.



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.