Establishing School-Based Mental Health Services Aligned to Learning

Article excerpt

Due to a change in state law, Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) school psychologists recently faced the challenge - and opportunity - to initiate adistrict Psychological Support Services Department and develop a districtwide Educationally Related Mental Health Services Program.

On June 28, 2011, the California state legislature passed a new state budget that required significant changes to be made in the delivery of mental health services to eligible children with disabilities. Essentially, what the legislature did was to make inoperative all provisions under what is commonly known as AB3632, the law previously governing the provision of mental health services for students with disabilities in California. Under AB3632, mental health services were provided to students with disabilities through county mental health agencies, pursuant to their legally mandated Individualized Education Program (IEP) responsibilities. With the recent change in the law, the legally mandated IEP responsibilities for county mental agencies no longer exist.

Like most school districts in the state, NMUSD faced the challenge of figuring how to continue to provide services for students under a new scenario. As the school psychologists for the district, we saw an opportunity to reorganize our departmental services to better serve the needs of students and support learning. Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, we continued to provide mental health services to eligible students through a master contract with Orange County Health Care Agency. This allowed time for internal program development and, at the same time, students experienced a smooth transition of services. It was during this time period that we developed the structural program components, assessment procedures, and templates and hired the necessary staff in order to service our students' school-based mental health needs internally.

We realized that securing the support of key stakeholders (e.g., parents, teachers, other school-based mental health providers, and district leaders) was critical to our efforts, and we made sure to incorporate targeted communications with these groups throughout our process. Not only did we need people to understand, participate in, and support the resources for the new process, the approach itself required close collaboration among school mental health providers and other staff.

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

Within the development phase, it was important to keep in mind that school-based mental health services are more than just counseling. Services range from prevention and skills development to intervention and evaluation, referral and collaboration, and lastly, consultation and counseling. We made sure to include this as one of our key messages in our outreach efforts.

A tiered approach to interventions was determined to be the most effective model with which to move forward as a district. Students naturally transition from the most general to the more student-specific, intensive treatment interventions (and vice versa as appropriate). This model provides support and intervention to all students - from the general population to individualized support to specific students. School psychologists and school psychologist/mental health interns provide services across the tiers; however, as the interventions become more intensive, the service providers become more specialized.

One unique feature of the program is the inclusion of the expressive therapies within the tiered process. We provided the necessary education, training, consultation, and supervision to our school psychologists in order for them to integrate the expressive therapies into their counseling roles. In addition, a registered art therapist integrates the expressive therapies at the Tier 3 level for students who may benefit from this intervention. A school social worker was also hiredto manage specializedcases at the Tier 3 level and provide parent and staff training. …

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