Meeting with Rep. Joe Courtney yesterday, several health and education professionals said school-based health clinics have been valuable in providing ready access to mental health services.
Courtney visited the Jennings School on January 30 to see one of 19 school-based health clinics currently run by the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut. Two student ambassadors, fifth graders Robert Tedford and Ra-aana Clarke, also took Courtney through the school’s library and arts classroom before a roundtable discussion about the health services.
Courtney said issues of school resources and mental health have come to the fore after last month’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona has proposed a Mental Health First Aid Act to train teachers, students, public safety employees, and others to increase public awareness of mental illness symptoms and available resources. Barber’s bill was included in President Barack Obama’s proposals for addressing gun violence.
“There’s an across the board consensus that mental health issues have to be dealt with more seriously in this country,” said Courtney.
The school-based health clinics provide access to both physical and mental health resources in the schools. The Child and Family Agency runs clinics in Groton, Mystic, Waterford, New London, and Norwich, as well as the Regional Multicultural Magnet School, and staffers include mental health clinicians and psychiatrists.
JoAnn Eaccarino, associate director of school-based programs at the Child and Family Agency, said mental health screenings have picked up issues with the students that can be addressed at the clinic or at the agency. She said the screenings have identified mental health issues in students as young as three to five years old at the Friendship School.
“That’s what makes us think the children are really getting what they need, and the parents,” said Eaccarino.
Ashley Sauders, director of the agency’s mental health program, said the clinics are able to diagnose mental health issues at a young age.
“If you find out the issues in third or fourth grade, you’re not going to have a kid who’s so far gone in 10th grade,” he said.
Laurelle Texidor, principal of the Jennings School, said the school has also been working to address issues such as bullying and how children should respond to difficulties they are having.
“We endeavor to be aware of the profiles of our youngsters emotionally,” said Texidor.
Vijay Sikand, the medical director of the Child and Family Agency and school medical advisor for New London Public Schools, said the clinics can be used not just as a safety net but as a proactive tool in improving children’s well-being.
“I see them more as engines to promote their health, to address obesity, asthma, and other issues,” he said.
Courtney praised the work of the agency and clinics, saying they have proven to be successful and could be a model in improving mental health access across the nation.
“We want to make sure that school-based health clinics are part of that response, because obviously it’s doing the job,” he said.