Nearly every week since he was in kindergarten, Toby* would have an outburst in class. Sometimes they were so intense, he’d bang his head against the desk until his nose bled. That changed in third grade, when Village Therapist Nicole Franklin, MSW, LCSW, began providing School-Based Mental Health Services at Harvey (ND) Public Schools. Nicole helped Toby work through his past traumatic experiences, and advocated for him to receive an Individualized Education Program.
For the first time since starting school, he’s gone months without a classroom incident. “It’s really been a process of me teaching him how trauma has been affecting his brain and how we can fix that,” Nicole says.
“I feel like his life has been changed. I feel like his teacher’s life has been changed. Without my involvement, I’m not sure where his school path would have led.”
INCREASED ACCESS, REDUCED STIGMA
Harvey Public Schools is one of several districts that began contracting with The Village in 2018 to have a counselor provide services in the school one or more days a week. The decision has been well-received by the community. By October, more than 30 students – 8% of the student population – had been referred for services. Of those students, 90% were not receiving any mental health counseling services.
Access is one of the biggest hurdles in rural communities. For example, Nicole is the only licensed therapist within 75 miles of Harvey.
Hannah Pederson, MS, LPC, provides school-based services in Hawley, MN. Like Nicole, she’s experienced a positive response and great results. “The school platform is really unique in that the access for mental health services is a lot easier for everyone involved,” Hannah says. “It allows for more consistent therapy services. We’re seeing a lot of progress with reduced symptoms of anxiety, reduced behavior at school or home, and increased self-esteem.”
She says schools proactively engaging with The Village also sends a powerful destigmatizing message:
“They’re telling the kids and the communities that their mental health matters.”
DECADE IN THE MAKING
The Village piloted School-Based Mental Health Services in 2008 in Parkers Prairie, MN, and later expanded into schools in Alexandria and Foley, MN. In the fall of 2017, The Village launched school-based programs at Northern Cass in North Dakota and Hawley, MN. The success of those programs, especially Northern Cass, led to a flood of requests from across North Dakota. Schools in Bismarck, Casselton, Harvey, Hillsboro, Kindred, Milnor, Minot, West Fargo, and Wyndmere all signed on in 2018, as well as Athlos Academy in St. Cloud, MN.
Village counselors now treat kids in 20 schools across both states. “Every time we open a school, we are taken aback by the need,” says The Village’s Chief Clinical Officer Kelly Olson.
Many of the younger children have experienced some type of trauma, such as divorce, absent parents, domestic violence, or addiction. High school students often seek help for anxiety, depression, and problems with relationships or with peers, such as bullying.
When therapists provide services on-site, the entire family benefits. Parents don’t have to take time off work to drive their child hours to and from therapy appointments. Students don’t miss half or full days of school. “I think for kids it’s more relaxing because it’s in an environment they’re familiar with,” Hannah says.
But the advantages go beyond attendance and convenience, Kelly says. The Village’s School-Based Mental Health program results in better outcomes for each child and positively affects the mental health of the student body. The counselors can treat the child within the context of where they spend the majority of their days, she says. They also serve as a resource for the teachers and staff, giving them the language and tools to help the students and a better understanding of the effect trauma has on children’s mental health.
“The more we integrate, the more we can have an impact on their life,” Kelly says.
*Name changed to protect identity
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Village's 2018 Annual Report.