News Article Details

Emphasis on 'educating the whole child' includes more mental health services at PPS

Journal Star - 8/15/2018

Aug. 15--PEORIA -- This year Peoria Public Schools will give more attention to the mental health of their students, and in some instances, their entire families.

The most visible component of the district's plan will open to the public this weekend during an open house for the new "wraparound center" at Trewyn School, but the emphasis on addressing anxiety, depression and other effects of trauma are not confined to one facility.

"We've hired more counselors, more occupational therapists and increased the amount of support from external agencies," said Derrick Booth, director of social and emotional learning for the district.

"I think the stigma of mental health over time has definitely decreased. ... The acceptance of reaching out for help has grown -- and the need for it has grown," Booth said. "We have a focus on trying to catch students early on in the intervention process with the goal to meet the basic needs and mental health and social and emotional support needs for the student and the whole family."

With a tiered approach to students' overall welfare, the mental health needs of students in the lower tiers likely would be addressed through a home school, but for some in the third tier, the wraparound center is intended to encapsulate the most critical social services in one easy-to-access place.

It's part of an approach Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat has repeatedly called "educating the whole child."

Among the agencies and services available are: A day program for children suspended from class administered by the social service agency FamilyCore; parenting classes; counseling and supervised visitation conducted by child welfare agency Center for Youth and Family Solutions; and Prairie State Legal Services to assist with domestic violence cases and related matters.

OSF Healthcare Saint Francis Medical Center also will provide critical mental health services to children who are victims of violence, their families and witnesses through a $1.1 million grant. Those services, which are eligible for two additional years of renewed grant funding, will be offered elsewhere throughout the school district as well.

The center was strategically located at Trewyn to provide a one-stop resource for those in crisis in the area most in need of it, zip code 61605, which encompasses most of South Peoria and represents the most impoverished area in the region.

But the services are not limited to Trewyn students and their families -- all students in Peoria Public Schools are eligible, as are residents in other areas of Peoria.

The mental health services for students often include parents, whose participation in the process is integral to its success, Booth said.

"It's very critical for the parent to be part of the therapeutic process, especially for the goal setting," Booth said. "It's more common that parents want the help, too. In many instances, they don't know what to do to help their child."

Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbuedel@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.

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(c)2018 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

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