Connecticut: Program provides mental screening and therapy

Aug 16, 2017, Hartford (CT) Business: Budget cuts may erode gains in school mental health services Since the horrific shooting of children and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Connecticut has made significant investments in school mental health services and specifically in identifying and treating victims of trauma. But with no state budget and school beginning in less than a month, many Connecticut districts may have to cut back on recently expanded mental health services or make room for them in their own budgets.... In the 2013-2014 school year, the high point for state funding, the state budget allocated $12.46 million for school-based health centers, and 13 new sites were opened, bringing the total to 92, White-Frese said. … Called the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) program, it screens students for mental illness and trauma and places those in need into a 10-week group-therapy program that meets during the school day. Since its inception, the program has grown to seven districts and expanded to incorporate elementary in addition to middle and high schools, with a state allocation of $194,000 in the last fiscal year, said Jason Lang, director of dissemination and implementation for the DCF contractor that runs the program, the Child Health and Development Institute. "Kids do better over time when they have access to these treatments," said Jeff Vanderploeg, vice president for mental health initiatives at the institute. "We've seen significant reductions in problem severity for kids that participate in CBITS." Problems include anxiety, depression and disruptive behavior, in and out of the classroom. It is unclear whether the trauma initiative will be able to continue, however. Without an adopted state budget, the state is being run under an executive order issued by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. That order has cut funding to DCF, and the agency has not yet renewed the contract for the CBITS trauma program for the fiscal year that started July 1. … The centers have seen marked increases in the percentage of mental health visits in recent years, including a jump from 30 to 41 percent of total visits between 2009 and 2014. "At the same time we see this increase in need in every school district in mental health, the funding has steadily declined," White-Frese said. "You can't continue to provide the same level of service when you have had this level of budget cuts." … Before this initiative, children who were disruptive were given detention, suspended or even expelled. "Behavior was dealt with behaviorally. Students were punished for behavior issues. It was a reward, punishment system," O'Callaghan said. "What they don't take into consideration is what is going on with this kid." About 25 percent of children experience or witness trauma before they turn 4, according to the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention. And Stamford is no exception.