Education

Under new program, Wichita students could meet with therapists during the school day

Children and families facing mental health issues will get additional help from Wichita schools next year, thanks to a $1 million program funded by the state.
Children and families facing mental health issues will get additional help from Wichita schools next year, thanks to a $1 million program funded by the state. McClatchy News Service

New teams of clinical therapists, social workers and case managers will be stationed full-time at more than 20 Wichita schools this fall as part of a project that officials hope will improve students' mental health.

The program will allow students to get therapy at school during the school day and will coordinate treatment plans for students and their families.

"Many times our families who may need (mental health) supports may not trust the mental health organizations or that profession, but they trust schools," said Terrell Davis, assistant superintendent of support services for the Wichita district.

"So providing that safe haven . . . I think will really help kids."

As part of a $10 million statewide effort between school districts and community mental health centers, the Wichita district will partner with Comcare of Sedgwick County on a pilot project to embed "behavioral health intervention teams" at 22 schools. The district and Comcare received about $1 million in state funding for the project.

Each three-member team will include a school liaison employed by the district, a master-level clinical therapist and a case manager employed by Comcare.

The new teams will be at five elementary schools (Allen, Cessna, Dodge, Gardiner, Isley and OK), six middle schools (Hamilton, Jardine, Marshall, Mead, Stucky and Truesdell), five high schools (Heights, North, South, Southeast and West) and five special schools (Bryant, Greiffenstein, Wells, Sowers and Gateway).

"Comcare of Sedgwick County is excited to partner with USD 259 to provide mental health services to children and families," said Shantel Westbrook, director of rehabilitation services for Comcare. "This unified approach and a focus on treatment planning with families and caregivers offers a unique opportunity for best outcomes."

Davis, the assistant superintendent, said increasing numbers of children are arriving at Wichita schools from homes of poverty or traumatic situations, including substance abuse, violence, hunger or neglect.

Many suffer from mental illness which, because of complications with insurance or recent cuts to community mental health services, often goes undiagnosed or untreated.

Consequently, Wichita schools have experienced a substantial increase in behavior problems, particularly among younger students. This fall, the district will open Bryant Opportunity Academy, a school designed specifically for elementary-age students struggling with behavior issues.

Davis said embedding teams of therapists and social workers inside schools will allow experts to devise treatment plans for kids and coordinate those plans with school officials and family members.

"We've always had mental health partners, but it's up to that family to get the kid to the mental health agency," he said. "Many times transportation was an issue, or work schedules were an issue, so kids may have been referred, but they may not have had the means to actually go there and participate.

"This pilot will allow us to take away all of those barriers to make sure that kids are having the supports in place for them."

The district expects to serve about 800 students through the pilot project.

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