The Booneville School Board was given an overview of school-based mental health services provided on school district campuses when it met last week.
Laura Pennington, who oversees the program for the district, provided several statistics, including some generated by studies and those specifically related to the Booneville School District.
Pennington said the National Alliance on Mental Illness states one in five children age 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness.
She also said half the individuals with a lifetime of mental illness begin by the age of 14, but the Alliance states the average delay from the onset of symptoms and intervention is eight to 10 years.
“That’s why (school- based mental health service) is so important. Some kids suffer in silence and don’t get help until they’re and adult,” Pennington said. “If they’re 14 and have symptoms they may not get help until they’re 24.”
Further, 37 percent of those with a mental health issue drop out of school and 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health issue, she said.
Finally, she said, suicide is the third leading cause of death of individuals age 10 to 22 and 90 percent have “an underlying mental health issue.”
Pennington, a school employee, and two clinicians from the Western Arkansas Counseling & Guidance Center, serve students in the Booneville School District. Combined, they see 113 students.
That’s actually down from the spring, Pennington said, when the clinicials were both seeing in excess of 60 students in addition to her caseload.
Due to the numbers the students are seen by professionals usually only once or twice per month individually and, she said, “hopefully two times in group (therapy)”.
“Due to these high numbers, we probably need to look at hiring another provider at some point,” Pennington said. “Or being able to hire a third clinician.”
Last week’s school board meeting was on the 19th day of the school year. Pennington said she has already been referred 17 students for service.
Referrals, Pennington said, come from the school’s counselors, who she called the gatekeepers.
From there Pennington will determine if the subject is someone who can benefit from medicine and or which clinician the individual should see.
Pennington said she obtained certification for the school as a provider through the Department of Education in June.
Because three-fourths of the students she sees are Medicaid eligible, the students must have an independent assessment to determine the level of care for which they are eligible.
“They decide what services they can have beyond school -ased therapy,” she said. “Such as case management, or residential treatment.”
The school is reimbursed $92 per 60 minute session provided by Pennington, but that incurred a limitation of 12 sessions per service per year.
“We can ask for more if I can prove medical necessity. I haven’t had to do that yet,” she said. “Even if I can’t get authorization for more sessions, I’m not going to cut them off. I work for the school, if I feel it’s medically necessary and I can’t get Medicaid to agree, I’ll still keep them.”
Pennington meets with four groups at the elementary school, conducts social skills groups and meets with students assigned to the school’s Alternative Learning Environment programs.
Pennington said she uses a curriculum program geared toward social and emotional learning.
“It consists of four social/emotional learning units,” said Pennington. “It teaches students choosing love over hate and anger. You’ve got courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion.”
Pennington said research shows social/emotional learning has been backed by 30 years of research, and lays the groundwork for academic learning and responsible citizenship.
“Social/emotional learning programs have previously been praised for increasing attendance and focus while reducing aggression, anxiety and other problems, even substance abuse,” said Pennington. “It even goes into the neuroscience behind the brain and teaches the kids the parts of the brain that influence their behavior and informs them how to calm down and use the part of the brain that chooses love over hate.”