Schools fill holes left by ser­vice cuts

Dis­tricts ad­just af­ter loss of fund­ing for men­tal health

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Michelle Mer­lin

This month, Eas­ton Area school board mem­bers will be asked to ap­prove agree­ments with the non­profit Val­ley Youth House and Le­high Val­ley Health Net­work to pro­vide men­tal health ser­vices.

The agree­ment with LVHN is for an in-school be­hav­ioral health clinic at the dis­trict’s high school. The Val­ley Youth House agree­ment is for plac­ing ther­a­pists in the dis­trict’s seven el­e­men­tary schools. For the for­mer, the dis­trict is sim­ply pro­vid­ing space to the clinic, which can bill stu­dents through their in­surance. For the lat­ter, the dis­trict will pay $61.75 an hour.

The con­tracts in part re­place a short term in-school ther­apy pro­gram that for years was of­fered through Northamp­ton County. But at the end of the last school year, the county an­nounced it would be cut­ting that aspect of the Stu­dent As­sis­tance Pro­gram, which was pre­vi­ously pro­vided by Val­ley Youth House.

The change, an­nounced in March, came as a shock to

some dis­trict of­fi­cials. Those who spoke to The Morn­ing Call at the time were wor­ried about the loss of in-school coun­sel­ing, which elim­i­nated some bar­ri­ers to getting care, such as trans­porta­tion.

Now some school dis­tricts in Northamp­ton County are con­tract­ing to re­place the ser­vice. At the same time, county ad­min­is­tra­tors said they’re of­fer­ing more ser­vices to stu­dents as well.

The change will al­low the county to push about $450,000 to other men­tal health pro­grams, some­thing that’s much needed af­ter state al­lo­ca­tions were cut about 10% in 2012.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors with the county said they shouldn’t be pay­ing for ther­apy for stu­dents who have in­surance, which hap­pened un­der the old sys­tem.

They also point to ad­di­tional re­sources for stu­dents that they’re pro­vid­ing — such as sup­port groups run by a ther­a­pist, drug and al­co­hol treat­ment and trauma-in­formed mind­ful­ness classes.

“We’ve been work­ing hard to­gether and jointly to work through this change and add ex­tra things when we can, but at the end of the day we’re re­spon­si­ble to the tax­payer to make sure we’re ap­pro­pri­ately us­ing the funds and pro­vid­ing the ser­vices that can’t be funded by other means,” said Tif­fany Ros­sanese, the county’s men­tal health, early in­ter­ven­tion and de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gram ad­min­is­tra­tor.

The move to elim­i­nate in­school coun­sel­ing puts Northamp­ton’s SAP more in line with how other coun­ties man­age the pro­gram.

It also comes as the na­tion’s fo­cus turns to men­tal health. Af­ter mass shoot­ings in Day­ton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump placed blame on men­tal ill­ness and ha­tred (although many men­tal health ex­perts said his state­ments were not backed by re­search).

And in Penn­syl­va­nia, Safe Schools grants are avail­able not just for tech­nol­ogy and pro­grams that make schools phys­i­cally safer, but be­hav­ioral health pro­grams too.

It’s through one of those grants that the Northamp­ton Area School Dis­trict will con­tinue to pro­vide in-school coun­sel­ing to stu­dents.

The dis­trict is us­ing a $310,000 grant over two years to bring Val­ley Youth House in for a cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram.

The pro­gram, rolled out only in the mid­dle and high schools, brings in two coun­selors who will be avail­able for stu­dents dur­ing each school day.

The pro­gram is traum­abased, and stu­dents will re­ceive at least three one-on-one ses­sions with cer­ti­fied coun­selors and 10 group ses­sions. It’s more time than the six ses­sions a stu­dent would get un­der the old pro­gram.

Northamp­ton Su­per­in­ten­dent Joseph Ko­valchik said he’s hop­ing to get a grant to pay for coun­sel­ing in the dis­trict’s el­e­men­tary schools, too.

It’s too early in the school year to know ex­actly how the new pro­gram will dif­fer from the old one.

In the Beth­le­hem Area School Dis­trict, of­fi­cials took the county up on a sug­ges­tion to part­ner with Mag­el­lan and other providers who could of­fer in-school men­tal health ser­vices. A com­bi­na­tion of Colo­nial In­ter­me­di­ate Unit 20, LVHN and the Chil­dren’s Home of Read­ing will be in the school dis­trict. The LVHN part­ner­ship is new this year, said Claire Ho­gan, the dis­trict’s chief pupil ser­vices of­fi­cer and Kathy Halkins, the su­per­vi­sor of health ser­vices.

LVHN is work­ing to get stu­dents with pri­vate in­surance ap­proved, it said, while the health net­work also has of­fered to sup­port unin­sured stu­dents on a case-by-case ba­sis as an in-kind ser­vice to the dis­trict.

The Eas­ton Area School Dis­trict also used grant money to con­tract with Val­ley Youth House to pro­vide coun­sel­ing for stu­dents in its seven el­e­men­tary schools. For mid­dle school stu­dents, the dis­trict re­al­lo­cated staff and will pro­vide sup­port through Com­mu­ni­ties In Schools of the Le­high Val­ley, said Karen Trin­kle, di­rec­tor of stu­dent and com­mu­nity ser­vices. The LVHN agree­ment will cover high school stu­dents.

“Val­ley Youth House has pro­vided an ex­cep­tional ser­vice to us,” Trin­kle said. “So that was a very big change for all of us.”

Val­ley Youth House, which pre­vi­ously con­tracted with the county to ad­min­is­ter the SAP pro­gram, laid off ther­a­pists that used to work in the schools but has started to re­call a few as dis­tricts ask to re­in­state the pro­gram, said Pat McGarry, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Val­ley Youth House.

The Cen­ter for Hu­man­is­tic Change, which runs SAP in Le­high County, took over the Northamp­ton con­tract this year. SAP is a statewide pro­gram de­signed to help schools iden­tify and help stu­dents who have drug and al­co­hol or men­tal health is­sues. Any­one, in­clud­ing a child, can re­fer a child to the SAP pro­gram. A SAP team — of­ten of dis­trict of­fi­cials, teach­ers, spe­cial­ists and a CHC SAP li­ai­son — dis­cuss the child’s needs and help de­ter­mine if they need to re­fer the child to other ser­vices.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion is pro­vid­ing nine SAP li­aisons to schools in Le­high and Northamp­ton coun­ties who pro­vide re­sources and ed­u­cate dis­tricts about what’s avail­able.

The li­aisons can help di­rect stu­dents to an ap­pro­pri­ate ser­vice, which might not be coun­sel­ing, peo­ple at CHC said.

“We re­ally help un­veil the full breadth of ser­vices avail­able to that school so the stu­dent is al­ways front and cen­ter,” said Ar­lene Lund, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

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