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EDITORIAL: A shared solution to a mental health treatment gap

Salem News - 3/14/2019

March 14-- Mar. 14--A new pilot program providing behavioral health counseling for young people offers a chance to meet a need across the region.

The program, run by the Beverly-based Northshore Education Consortium, makes a trained mental-health clinician available to a cadre of area school districts -- in this case Danvers, Peabody, Masconomet, Swampscott and Manchester-Essex -- who have students in need of help.

The Northshore program stands out for its aim of working with students one-on-one, and wherever necessary -- even making house calls.

"I'm able to connect the school and the home, which the schools don't always have the resources to do," said Jennifer Orlando, the clinician hired through the program. "I think there's a huge need.

She's right.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students. Only three states -- Montana, Vermont and New Hampshire -- meet that standard. On average, schools report one counselor for every 444 students, according to a recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"It's physically impossible for them to have an impact on students with developmental needs," Eric Sparks of the counselor association told CNN. "We have many schools where students don't have access to a school counselor and some schools don't have a school counselor."

To be sure, the breadth of the program is limited by the fact that five districts are sharing one counselor. But Orlando can make an impact.

Orlando will be able to carry a caseload of 14 students at a time, working with youths suffering from anxiety, depression, trauma or any other behavioral health concerns.

The two-year program is funded with help from a $117,000 grant from the Tower Foundation. The program is free the first year, and will cost districts $17,000 each in the second year. That's still a far cry from the $70,000 each district would have to pay to have its own counselor.

"It's more of an outreach position than most schools are able to provide, especially suburban schools in smaller districts that don't have that level of need for an outreach clinician," Allison Collins, director of student services for the Manchester-Essex Regional School District, told reporter Paul Leighton. "It fits a need that we've been seeing. I'm excited."

Here's hoping the approach is replicated in other parts of the region.

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(c)2019 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.)

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