In the 14 months Carmel Clay Schools has been partnering with Ascension St. Vincent to offer behavioral health services on campuses, more than 400 students have used the services to take part in more than 5,000 therapy sessions.
Those numbers put the program ahead of where district officials thought it would be when they announced the initiative in August 2020. Through the partnership, CCS offers students and employees access to optional therapy sessions, skills coaching, medication management and other services with professional providers.
CCS Mental Health Coordinator Stephanie Whiteside presented an update on the partnership at the Nov. 8 school board workshop session. She said from the beginning of the school year through Oct. 18, CCS counselors and social workers made 99 referrals to Ascension St. Vincent professionals, compared to 5 in the same time period in 2020 in the program’s infancy. This does not include appointments made through parent or self referrals.
Suicide screenings have also increased, with 101 completed from the beginning of the school year through Oct. 18 this year compared to 41 during the same period in 2020. The majority of the screenings have occurred among middle and high school students, but Whiteside said CCS is seeing an increasing number of elementary students being evaluated.
The partnership rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to mental health challenges of its own.
“One of the things we’re really looking at is the stress on our students and the day-to-day stress they may be experiencing and how we may be able to support them,” Whiteside said. “The pandemic has been very difficult for many students and parents and adults as well in our community, so we want to continue to identify strategies to provide that support.”
CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said the hiring of Whiteside in June 2019 and launch of the program came at a crucial time.
“This has been done over two years of a global pandemic,” Beresford said. “We had no idea when we went on this journey or this adventure that this would happen. We are so thankful we had some pieces in place to help our kids.”
Jon Ferguson, Ascension St. Vincent program manager, told the school board that he’s been impressed with how quickly the behavioral health services launched in Carmel.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the first year of the program,” he said. “It’s hard to get that momentum going sometimes, but we haven’t experienced that in this program, at least from a treatment perspective.”
Ascension St. Vincent professionals are providing services at all CCS campuses, although it is yet to reach full staffing levels. Currently, Ascension St. Vincent has nine licensed therapists and seven behavioral health technicians at CCS, with openings for four licensed therapists, one behavioral health technician and one clinical supervisor.
CCS is planning to continue offering workshops for parents and caregivers addressing behavioral and mental health issues, including:
- Caregiver QPR/suicide prevention (December 2021)
- Conscious discipline (January 2022)
- Must-have social emotional learning for college and career readiness (February 2022)
- Education neuroscience: How social emotional learning promotes brain development (March 2022)
- Strategies for supporting social emotional growth in middle school (April 2022)
- Conscious discipline session for incoming kindergarten caregivers (May 2022)
School board member Louise Jackson described the services offered through the partnership as “extremely important.”
“Emotional intelligence and conflict resolution is something we coach in the talent development and HR part of corporate America, so it’s great to see we’re getting a headstart to make sure kids not only get that support at home but at school,” Jackson said.