News Article Details

In-school mental health counseling to be offered in Newburyport

Daily News of Newburyport - 6/28/2019

Jun. 28--NEWBURYPORT -- A $100,000 grant from the nonprofit organization Home for Little Wanderers will be put toward in-school mental health programs and counseling in districts across eastern Massachusetts, including Newburyport.

Home for Little Wanderers says it offers services for every stage of child and family development, including behavioral health, therapeutic residential and special education, adoption and foster care.

The nonprofit's goal is to ensure the healthy development and physical well-being of children and families living in at-risk circumstances, according to Lesli Suggs, president and CEO.

The nonprofit received a grant from the Cummings Foundation that will be put toward in-school mental health counseling for students. Home for Little Wanderers will run the program and work in collaboration with Newburyport's public schools, creating an innovative, unique service offered in school for students.

In addition, Cathy Riccio, lead school nurse, received a $75,000Comprehensive School Health Services grant from the state Department of Public Health. Part of the grant, Riccio said, will fund the Home for Little Wanderers and put licensed mental health clinicians in the schools to help students.

Home for Little Wanderers has been providing mental health support in schools for 15 years, said Suggs, who added that over the last six years, these services have expanded to the North Shore.

Students will be provided with social and emotional support beyond what guidance counselors can provide, however, Suggs noted, the clinicians do not replace guidance counselors.

"It allows us to stay in the school and provide outpatient service and individual therapy for those kids," Suggs said. "Since they spend most of the time in school, we are then there and provide that treatment."

Suggs, a Newburyport resident, worked with school officials and youth services leaders to bring the program to the Clipper City.

In most communities, she added, this has become a reliable resource for families who struggle to seek individual care. In Newburyport, Suggs noted, there is only one facility that accepts MassHealth, making affordability an issue for some families.

With the in-school model, billing goes through insurance, resulting in no cost to the school district, Suggs said.

"At the end of the day, (students) have more time in class to be able to learn and not worry so much about what might be troubling them outside of the school day," Suggs said.

The nonprofit works with children who have experienced trauma, creating challenges for them to stay in the classroom. Additionally, Suggs said, clinicians work with students who have experienced anxiety, depression, anger issues, impulse control, attention and focus, grief and loss and other types of trauma.

Riccio modeled the Newburyport program after one used at Somerville High School, which has two local health centers -- Riverside Community Care and Home for Little Wanderers -- treating patients in school.

Clinicians work with adjustment counselors, teachers and parents to help students before or after school and during built-in breaks during the day so learning isn't interrupted.

In-school mental health counseling will begin in the 2019-20 academic year with one clinician based at Rupert A. Nock Middle School, said Suggs, who noted that's where school officials saw the most need. School leaders plan to expand the program to the high school and elementary schools in the future, Riccio said.

Superintendent Sean Gallagher, who has been talking about social and emotional learning throughout the school year, said some students and families need more support outside of the school day.

Next year, Edward G. Molin Elementary School will add a part-time administrator to focus specifically on social and emotional struggles in students.

"It's constant to provide programming and services so our students can be successful and try to maximize both their academic and social potential as much as we can," Gallagher said. "We're really excited."

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Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.


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