CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock students who need mental health services soon will have the option of visiting one at school.
Eastern Hancock Schools Corp. plans to offer a licensed mental health counselor from Community Health Network’s school-based service program. One counselor will work at the middle school office at no cost to the school district. The counselor’s hours will depend on the number of students being served and the availability of the counselor.
Eastern is the second district in the county to approve an arrangement for mental health care for students in an effort to bolster early intervention for children who are struggling. Mt. Vernon Community Schools began offering the program in January, citing a goal of being able to provide mental health services to all grade levels after an initial roll-out.
Jenn Lightcap, counselor at Eastern Hancock High School, compared the role of a school counselor to that of a triage nurse — the person who identifies whose needs are the most urgent. It’s clear some of her charges require advanced care, she said.
“So many students cross your plate, and you start to recognize which ones need help with coping and life skills and which need licensed mental health care,” she told the Eastern Hancock School Board this week.
Through the partnership, students can be referred to the counselor by parents or school personnel. The parents, students and the counselor will meet for an intake session before the student begins counseling. For now, the program is limited to students covered by private insurance or Medicaid, Lightcap said.
Early intervention in mental health issues is key in order to provide students with strategies to becoming healthy, functioning adults, Lightcap said.
As many as 40 percent of children who need mental health counseling go untreated, she said. The reasons for this vary, but the biggest reason is parents don’t have the time or resources to connect their children with the help they need, she said.
Adding the mental health counselor from Community Health will help spread the responsibility of seeing to the mental health needs of the district’s students, which currently falls to Lightcap and the elementary counselor, Nathan Haffner.
Addressing behavior issues is often reactive instead of proactive, and having a counselor will help educators curb mental health issues, said Eastern Hancock Elementary School principal Amanda Pyle at the board meeting.
“There are so many kids identified in our district that need mental health services,” Pyle said. “Parents want what’s best for our kids, and I think if we remove that barrier, we will see a lot more families open up to that counseling.”
Lightcap first reached out to Community Health School Based Services in 2014 to learn more about the partnership, she wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.
Offering services on site will help students be more comfortable while they are speaking with the mental health professionals, said Eastern Hancock Schools Corp. superintendent Vicki McGuire in an email.
“Also, this could actually help parents so they would not need to leave their jobs, come and pick up students, take students to the mental health clinic and return them back to school and go back to their jobs,” she wrote. “By having mental health professionals in our school, students can stay at school with less disruption for themselves and their parents.”