In-School Therapists Provide Easy Access to Care

In-School Therapists Provide Easy Access to Mental Health Services
Posted on 04/17/2019
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MindPeace graphicThe statistics about children’s mental health issues are staggering:

  • - Only 50 percent of children in Ohio with a mental health diagnosis receive care;

  • - 1 in 5 young people ages 13 to 18 years have a current mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder;

  • - 50% of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; and

  • - Anxiety disorders and ADHD are earliest to emerge, often in the preschool and early school-age years.

Despite these numbers, the lack of awareness and stigma attached to mental health issues keep the majority of young people from getting help.

That’s why Lakota is partnering with MindPeace, a local non-profit that connects its network of professional mental health providers with schools to increase student access to quality, affordable mental healthcare. 

Lakota West first piloted the program during the 2016-17 school year, and since then the district has been working to bring it to every Lakota school.

“The safety and well-being of our students is a top priority,” said Lauren Brown, Lakota’s Manager of Health Care Services. “And strong mental health plays a vital role in a student's growth and success. A student who is struggling with stress, anxiety or other concerns cannot focus on school work.”

Twelve Lakota school buildings currently have an onsite therapist available for consultation during the school day and after school hours, as needed. By the start of next school year, 15 schools will be part of the program, and by the 2020 school year the goal is to have a therapist working in all 23 Lakota buildings.

 

By Fall 2020, all 23 Lakota schools
will have an in-school therapist.

 

“Lakota has 195 students in active therapy across the district,” added Brown. “If the caseload of the school therapist fills up, additional therapists will be added to meet the needs at the school. After all, the whole purpose of the program is to provide ready access to care.”

In fact, because of the awareness and visibility of the program at Lakota West over the past few years, the school is now looking to bring on a second therapist to provide services to students, staff and parents.

MindPeace began as a project of the Junior League of Cincinnati (JLC) in 2002 to answer a significant need for an improved system of mental health care for children in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Hundreds of JLC volunteers devoted thousands of volunteer hours to develop a model for a seamless system of children’s mental health and wellness with the help of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and many other community partners.

In 2007, the JLC launched MindPeace as its own non-profit which now works with 256 schools across the region. MindPeace serves as a technical advisor to facilitate the process of connecting its network of professional mental health providers with schools. The partnership is self-sustaining and does not require any financial investment by the school district.

Every school that participates puts together a team that consists of the principal, counselor, psychologist, nurse, regular and special education teachers and parents. Brown also participates on each team to help share best practices and take care of details at the district level.

The team conducts a needs assessment at the school that outlines the needs of students, parents and the staff at the building. MindPeace then sends the assessment to its 18 different mental health partners, and those with the staff capacity and expertise needed then apply.

The school team then interviews 2-4 partners before making a selection; after determining the partner, then team interviews individual therapists from the organization.

The whole process can take anywhere from 2-4 months. Currently Lakota schools work with four different partner organizations: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Catalyst Counseling LLC, Solutions Counseling Center and Community First.

Woodland, Cherokee and Heritage elementary schools are currently in this selection process, with the goal to have a therapist on staff in early fall.

Once the program is established, each school has a monthly referral meeting to hear how things are going, discuss barriers to care, and troubleshoot and overcome any issues. Quarterly meetings are held at each school as well, and MindPeace meets with district administration twice a year to discuss how things are going and ways to improve.

Here’s how the program works within the school...

Parents, teachers, school counselors and students can make student referrals for services. The therapist then contacts the family to fill out the necessary paperwork. Families can cover the cost of therapist visits through insurance, Medicaid or private pay options.

It can take anywhere from just 3 days to a few weeks from the time of referral until the student is seen by the therapist. If a student is in a crisis where there is the possibility of self-harm or harm to others, therapists can also provide immediate crisis intervention.

Therapists have an office at each school, and schedule appointments around student schedules to find the best time to meet, often during study hall or non-academic classes.

The convenience means that there is one less appointment that parents need to take work off for – or that the student needs to miss classes for. In fact, if the student sees the therapist during the school day, it does not count against attendance.

Therapists are available during the school day so if student is in crisis or needs to touch base, they can often do so.

Some students see therapists two times per week, others once a week. A nurse practitioner visits schools every two weeks to help therapists manage any medication needs.

After students have developed the skills needed to help manage their anxiety or depression or other issue, they might meet with the therapist every two weeks or every month.  Once students meet their therapy goals and are discharged, the therapist is still available if needed.

Therapists also assist when re-integrating a student back into the school environment after receiving outside care to make sure they feel safe and supportive.

Services are available during the school year; this summer the high schools will have therapists available for Lakota students to see.

Therapists work not only with students, but with staff members as well. If parents give permission, the therapist can share ideas with the teachers to help. Therapists are also available as a resource to staff members; if a student is showing signs of struggling, the therapist can offer suggestions.

The top mental health issues that students are being seen for are anxiety, depression and thoughts of self-harm.

“Prevention is another important part of the MindPeace program,” said Brown. “Some therapists have done programs like coffee chats with parents about mental health issues. One therapist did a mindfulness session with students using coloring to help them develop coping skills to manage emotions and feelings.”

Click here to see more about the schools currently participating in the MindPeace program. In addition to their network of school-based providers, MindPeace also manages a comprehensive database of all the mental health providers in our region, along with other helpful resources to meet the needs of students and their families. Click here to visit the MindPeace website to view the comprehensive list of providers and resources. 

“Our partnership with MindPeace is an important part of how we need to address the social and emotional needs of our students," said Ridge Junior Principal Ben Brown. "Providing easy access to services within the familiar school environment helps reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues.”