June 1st, 2012

Agency helps city increase school mental health services

Boston schools are bolstering the psychological services they offer students by enlisting in private therapists – namely from Boston’s The Home for Little Wanderers – to counsel kids in elementary, middle, K-8 and high schools across the city and on school time. With The Home servicing 40 Boston Public School locations as well as parochial and charter schools across the city, the organization is helping children get the mental health services they need by bringing the treatment and intervention straight to them.

“School mental health and outpatient providers working in schools has been around for about 20 years,” says Cara Giovanani, LICSW, and assistant program director, School Based Services, at The Home for Little Wanders’ Child and Family Counseling Center. “Partner community mental health agencies were brought into the public schools to address a need to provide outpatient therapy services to children and families who couldn’t make it to traditional outpatient providers,” she says. “By bringing in outpatient providers, children and parents get mental health treatment different from the work school guidance, psychologists and school adjustment counselors are trained to provide.”

According to Giovanani, The Home has 38 full- and part-time staff from various disciplines working with the children and adolescents in schools across the system. The staff comprises psychologists, social workers, licensed mental health counselors, expressive arts therapists and psychology and social work interns.

Students get referred to The Home counselors for various symptoms and needs such as anxiety, trauma, and depression; behaviors that affect their attention and/or impulsivity; and concerns around emotional and family dynamics. All of these things, says Giovanani, might affect a student’s ability to perform and meet educational expectations.

Although BPS provides psychological services to special education students as part of the child’s individual education plan (IEP); not all students who need mental health supports have IEPs. That’s where these sessions come in. Sessions are 45 to 60 minutes, as in outpatient care and are arranged with school staff so they don’t interfere with a student’s academics. Throughout a student’s treatment, The Home’s clinician works collaboratively with school staff to implement supports for the student and family.

“We at this point don’t have statistically significant or enough data to speak to the effectiveness of the interventions,” says Giovanani; however, she says The Home is “looking to expand services to other schools who might be interested, as well as expand services in the current schools we are partnering with.”

BPS has multiple agencies who partner with their schools to provide services to students and their families. Among them are Children’s Hospital Boston Neighborhood Partnership Program; City Connects; Boston Institute for Psychotherapy (BIP), Franciscan Hospital for Children, and the Allston Brighton Mental Health Association.

Says Giovanani: “We want to help the most vulnerable children and provide them and their families with strong quality intervention that is accessible and culturally competent.”

By Jennifer E Chase

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