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District partnerships expand mental health services for students

Oct. 3, 2016
logos As part of an ongoing mental health and wellness initiative, Edina Public Schools has established partnerships with Family Innovations and Fraser to provide enhanced school-based mental health services and support students across the district.

The partnerships represent a new tier of support on a continuum of mental health services the district has long maintained at each school. The focus of these services is to meet the unique social, emotional and mental health needs of all students, which in turn provides opportunities for academic growth and achievement. Fraser and Family Innovations will now be able to provide individual and clinical level services for students, and may also include parents, caregivers and family members, at district schools during the school day for students. Eligibility for such services is based on referral by the school social worker or psychologist and/or parent choice.

The advantages to this model are many, according to Jeff Jorgensen, director of student support services. “If they choose this service option, parents will not have to take their student out of school for an appointment or compete for those few after-school time slots at a clinic,” he said. “The partnerships will also pave the way for better communication between school, home and service provider to help ensure the student can realize the full benefit of the mental health support that he or she is receiving.”

School-based mental health services have become fairly common in Minnesota, said Melissa Estenson, behavior program specialist and the district’s liaison with the two companies. Both she and Jorgensen have experience with this type of service model in previous districts. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, “Untreated mental health issues are significant barriers to learning and educational success. Placing children’s mental health services in schools provides a great opportunity for mental health promotion, prevention and early identification and intervention.”

“Having school-based services significantly reduces the barriers to accessing mental health services, and reduces the stigma of receiving care for mental health needs. By equipping students with coping strategies for management of stress and anxiety, student engagement will increase as well as academic performance,” Estenson added.

The U.S. Department of Health estimates that approximately 20 percent of students between age 5 and 18 struggle with a diagnosable mental health condition. Edina students are no exception.

“Through surveys, we know that our student stress level is high and anxiety is high,” Jorgensen said. “The need is tremendous and last year our skilled district staff – psychologists and social workers – were providing an average of 30 hours of direct support to individual students per week.”

In the past, when a student’s need exceeded the district’s skill level or available time, parents received a list of resources that they could use to identify an independent provider of clinical services and schedule outside of the school day. “We have no way of knowing how many followed up with a higher level of service once they have the resource list,” Jorgensen said.

Parents will still receive a list of resources to choose from, but the hope is that the partnerships with Fraser, at the elementary level, and Family Innovations, at the secondary level, will help ensure appropriate follow up by creating an easy pathway and availability of services for students and their families. The same confidentiality requirements between clinic and client applies to services provided at school, however Jorgensen said the clinics would be able to provide the district with non-identifying information about numbers of students and the kinds of concerns being addressed, giving Student Support Services a lead on trends that may be occurring within district schools.

Fraser and Family Innovations were chosen to partner with the district based on a request for proposal process conducted last year. Jorgensen said the organizations rose to the top based on their long histories in the Twin Cities and their experience providing site-based services.

He also emphasized that the services are contractual between parents and clinic, and that parental insurance would need to cover the cost of services. “It is as though the clinics have a satellite office here, for the convenience of their clients,” Jorgensen said. “The district has no vested interest, other than the well-being and success of our students – things that we care very much about.”

While both clinics will have designated offices at the school, they are not drop-in clinics. A referral may come to a parent through the school psychologist or social worker, or concerned parents may contact either of those staff members with concerns about their student and questions about the school-site services.

Estenson said trainings for staff will help them learn to identify warning signs for mental health concerns and raise awareness for the resources available. The district’s mental health initiative is all about creating a community partnership in support of ongoing student health and wellness, she said, and that includes staff, parents and professional partners. “The district mental health and wellness initiative aligns with with district's six Educational Competencies seamlessly,” Estenson said. “We are looking forward to this partnership and assisting students to function at their optimal level."