News Article Details

School-based mental health program to improve access to care

Daily News - 9/9/2018

Sept. 09--School-based mental health services will soon be available at Onslow County Schools, and the effort to bring needed therapy to students during the school day doesn't take parent involvement out of the process.

Gary Bass, chief executive officer for Pride in North Carolina LLC, the agency that will be providing the services, said that a referral by a school will not automatically mean a student will receive services.

Bass said if a school official makes a referral, the first step is for the school to contact the parent and let them know that the option of an assessment is available.

"We aren't contacted without a parent's consent," Bass said.

If a parent gives consent, Pride in North Carolina will first conduct a comprehensive clinical assessment to determine if the child meets the criteria for needed therapy. If so, a treatment plan is developed. In other cases, the assessment may find the child does not need services at all.

Bass also noted that if they find out a child is already benefiting from treatment with another therapist, they want the child to continue treatment with that provider.

"The No. 1 factor that determines the success of therapy isn't they number of years of services received; the No. 1 factor of success is how well a person relates to and communicates with a therapist," Bass said.

Families are not obligated to use the school-based services, but if there is a need, Bass said the school-based services are a way to help students who may not be getting the help they need because of challenges getting access to services.

"Transportation is a big barrier," Bass said.

Often, he said, it is difficult for families to get to and from appointments and to take the time off work to do so.

"The beauty about this is that (the service) is provided right at school so a parent doesn't have to take the time off work and the student is not having to be out an hour-and-a-half or two hours at a time and missing that school time," Bass said.

Onslow County Schools Executive Director of Student Services Brendan Gartner said such barriers can prevent families from seeking the help that their child needs.

"The greatest benefit of being able to provide these services on campus during the school day will be increased access for our families," Gartner said. "On-campus services remove barriers such as transportation, parental time off from work and time away from school, which may prevent a family from accessing the mental health care they need."

Gartner said the school district doesn't have staff members who provide therapy services.

"Neither our school psychologists nor our social workers provide therapy services," he said. "Our school social workers are only permitted to provide indirect services, meaning they can only refer families to outside resources for assistance."

Gartner said they have no way of knowing how many students may need therapy services, but they hope the school-based program will help to reach students who would benefit from mental health services, including students whose needs may have gone undiagnosed.

"We do not know exact numbers of student who may be in need of on-campus mental health services," Gartner said. "Many of our students go undiagnosed. Others may already be receiving services from mental health providers in the community but parents are under no obligation to share this information with the schools. However, there has been an increase in the number of students who have these needs, and this was what started us looking at the possibilities which will be made available through this partnership."

Bass said part of that increase is that they are identifying mental health care needs at earlier ages.

"That is a key thing, identifying symptoms early," Bass said. "The younger we can identify needs, the better success we can have in treatment."

Bass said Pride in North Carolina currently provides school-based services at more than 100 schools in 10 counties. They added Onslow and Chowan counties through the current partnership with Trillium Health Resources.

Also in this area, the agency has worked directly with Lenoir County Public Schools, which is already providing school-based mental health services.

Bass said they are still finalizing plans with the school district but they hope to start serving Onslow County sometime in September. Those providing therapy services will most likely be licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors or licensed marriage/family therapists.

There is not a cost to the schools, Bass said, and their agency bills Medicaid, private insurance or through other sources.

Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or Jannette.Pippin@JDNews.com.

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(c)2018 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.)

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