School Nursing Through a Therapeutic Lens

“Nursing is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said the finest of Fine Arts.” Florence Nightingale

The Transformative Role of “Root Cause” Problem-Solving

I have written many times about problem-solving justice and the expanding role of courts to tackle complex social problems for children, adults and families from a therapeutic approach. The transformative role of judges to humanize the law through the application of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) lends voice and validation to court participation. The elevation of dignity, active listening and the inter-disciplinary nature of court process, allows for a unique court experience while upholding the rule of law. One of the key elements of problem-solving justice is the focus on root cause problems and respond from a collaborative and public health approach.

School Nurses as First Responders

This past week I had the honor of conducting a skype class at Rutgers School of Nursing, Camden School Nurse Certificate Program. The “Relentless Nurse” and Educator, Robin Corgan, invited me to speak to her class of experienced nurses who seek certification as school nurses. My assignment, to speak broadly in terms of purpose, finding your passion in a helping profession and nursing through the application of TJ. At this point, one may ask how the law reform science of TJ relates to school nursing? Yet, the legal scholarship of therapeutic jurisprudence, pioneered by Law Professor, Bruce J. Winick and Law Professor, David Wexler conceptualized a broad use of TJ as the movement progressed, across diverse helping professions and sectors. For, example, as a young lawyer, I chose to apply TJ in my professional role as Director, Office of Public Guardian for Broward County. This Office (now privatized at Barry University) serves vulnerable adults, determined by the Probate Court in Broward County to be incapacitated under Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes, and is appointed a legal guardian and to be responsible provide for that individual’s health, safety and overall welfare. As I learned about TJ, it was the values of dignity and how the guardianship and social work functions could be humanized to promote dignity and solve problems through shared-decision making, swiftly captured my attention.

The National Association of School Nurses

In relationship to school nursing and behavioral health, it has been said, “The character of the Nurses is as important as the knowledge she/he possesses.” I believe we are at a watershed moment in the behavioral/mental health of students, a view propounded by the National Association of School Nurses. This Position Statement” states that “School nurses, because of their regular access to students, are uniquely qualified to identify students with potential behavioral concerns.” Further, “School nurses can serve as advocates, facilitators, and counselors of behavioral health services within the school environment and in the community.” The Position Statement offers background from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), defines behavioral health “as mental health/emotional well-being and/or actions that affect wellness.” In addition, prevalence and data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey underscore risks of suicide and impact of adverse childhood experiences, including increased risk for long-term health and mental health problems.

School Nursing Through a TJ Lens

In my book, A Court of Refuge, I try to illustrate through various case studies how a judge might approach serving people and families in a court from a TJ perspective. The goals of building trust and promoting positive health outcomes in a court of law may seem quite distant from the role of a school nurse. But, I would suggest it is not. The need to appreciate and understand the prevalence of mental illness, intellectual disorders, learning disabilities, and to build partnerships and alliances with community stakeholders is critical. Also, to become educated about behavioral health, risk factors, best practices from a trauma and cultural perspectives offers an integrated and transformative nursing role.

These are serious and urgent times for students, families and communities. The topics and wide-array of issues are rich and robust. I urge you to find your passion and purpose in school nursing to promote health, social justice and academic success.



Pioneer of America's first mental health court. Author of "A Court of Refuge: Stories From the Bench of America's First Mental Health Court"

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Ginger Lerner-Wren

Pioneer of America's first mental health court. Author of "A Court of Refuge: Stories From the Bench of America's First Mental Health Court"