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Cleveland County, NC: Schools need MORE MENTAL HEALTH STAFF; trauma victims

Mar 17, 2019, Shelby (NC) Star: Cleveland County Schools looks to improve mental health of students … But what happens when a student has issues with anger management, depression or thoughts of harming themselves? That’s a question the district is working to answer — to help students and potentially save lives. Students in crisis … More than half of all students in Cleveland County experience one or more adverse childhood experiences — loss of a parent, economic hardship, living with someone abusing drugs and alcohol or been the victim of or witness to neighborhood violence or domestic violence. … Those kinds of experiences can have long-lasting effects, from failing grades to chronic absenteeism or worse. The district has recorded 317 cases of students having homicidal or suicidal thoughts, 40 of those ended in hospitalization. Pilot program for mental health Most of what Cleveland County Schools currently offers in terms of mental health services is reactionary. The district contracts with multiple agencies to provide outpatient and individual therapy services during the school day. Thanks to a number of state grants, the district is now piloting a new program that allows schools and staff to be proactive in identifying and responding to trauma and getting students the help they need before problems arise. “We are using a lot of screeners. We look at grades, look at attendance, incident reports. We are going to have just honest conversations about what is going on and what outside factors may be impacting that child’s life,” said Ashley Moretz, a licensed clinical social worker for CCS. “Our groups are not based on specific need. We based them solely on grades because this is an intervention that potentially anyone could have access to if they had the need.” … While their peers are working in groups to improve their work in core classes, students struggling with mental health or behavioral issues meet with Moretz. Using a mixture of group activities, games and books focused on life and social topics, Moretz’s goal is to help students navigate difficult situations. “We use those to teach appropriate responses, behaviors, how to deal with challenging situations, social regulation, anger management,” Moretz said…. It’s a difficult class to teach, but a necessary one that, if successful, could be the standard across the district in a few years. “In the past we’ve had a situation where our staff, the only thing we were able to handle based on the resources we have available were students who were in a crisis situation. What this will allow us to do is that early intervention,” said Aspel. “We maybe can prevent a child from having more serious mental health issues by intervening at an earlier point in time.” Seeing progress As the pilot program at the three schools continues, other programs to address mental health are being tested at schools across Cleveland County. It will likely be another three to five years before the district can identify and implement the best kind of program to make standard across the board. Though some of the early results in Moretz’s classes are promising. Student progress in her class is measured by a reduction of incident reports, conversations with students and school feedback. She is already seeing some progress in students that struggled with violent behavior. One student who was referred to the class for throwing chairs and other violent behaviors recently got a positive referral for asking to speak to a teacher privately when they were having trouble in class. “It’s really helped give kids empowerment to have control over their emotions and responses,” said Moretz. Getting parents involved Arguably the biggest challenges facing any program to improve students’ behavioral or mental health come from outside the school walls. The district is currently looking for ways to get parents and family members of students involved in the process of talking about mental health and appropriate responses to trauma. To that end, Aspel said she hopes to host a series of lunch and learn events to try and educate parents and family members about what they can do to help their students. “It’s absolutely huge that parents are involved,” said Aspel. “It’s no more important than parents reading to their children.”


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