News Article Details

School program helps get students access to mental health treatment

Frederick News-Post - 3/25/2017

March 25--A group of Frederick County school employees is exploring new ways for adolescents to cope with academic and social pressures.

Teenagers and pre-teens have many demands placed on them, from sports and academics to community service projects and dealing with social media, said Kristen Spear, one of the four social workers in Frederick County Public Schools' Community Agency School Services program.

"They don't have a lot of down time," she said.

The CASS program is a group of social workers who focus on helping students with mental health problems that have been identified.

The pressure to keep up can lead to depression, anxiety or other mental problems, Spear said.

Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics show that 1 in 5 children has a diagnosable mental health condition, she said.

The social workers mainly work out of the county's middle schools, although they can also help coordinate services for elementary or high school students.

The middle school years are when students begin experiencing a lot of social and emotional growth, said Jet Reid, director of student services for Frederick County Public Schools. It's also a time when students may start experiencing problems with substance abuse or depression.

In the 2015-16 school year, CASS workers saw 1,109 students, 28 percent more than the previous year.

They helped 338 middle school students get direct access to social work services, according to numbers provided by the program.

Of those, 66 percent received free or reduced-price meals, 43 percent were minorities, 33 percent were special education students, and 15 percent were homeless.

The CASS program also formed groups at 12 middle schools to help students talk about healthy relationships, anger management and how to avoid dropping out of school.

Last year, the CASS program's staff helped set up a pilot program to have psychiatrists see patients during the school day, making it easier for students to get access to the services they need.

They try to vary the times of the appointments, so a student doesn't consistently miss one class, Spear said.

The school system has an agreement with five nonprofit or not-for-profit agencies to help provide mental health services in FCPS buildings during the day.

In the 2015-16 school year, 53 therapists provided counseling services for 1,109 students at 60 schools in the county.

The pilot program is intended to improve communications and services for patients, Reid said.

This year, the system added social workers who are based at Catoctin and Brunswick high schools, but also serve the two feeder systems.

The school system identified those schools because they're in places where there aren't as many services available in the community, Reid said.

Part of the CASS workers' jobs is helping teachers, school guidance counselors and others identify students who may be struggling.

For parents who might resist the idea that their children need help, sometimes it's best to just introduce yourself and build a relationship to help develop future cooperation, said Pam Miller, a social worker connected to the CASS program.

Usually, by the time students are referred to the program, their parents -- and often the students themselves -- have noticed there's a problem, said Corrina Nobis, another CASS social worker.

Ultimately, Reid said, the CASS program tries to make it easier to coordinate mental health care to make it easier for students to learn.

"The goal is to bring these services directly to the kids and families," he said.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP.

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(c)2017 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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