Can School Mental Health Services Make a Difference?


Can School Mental Health Services Make a Difference?
Family Services, Inc. School-Based Mental Health Program Adopts Outcomes Informed Care to Find Out

Scott Birdsong, LCSW-C, ACSW, Chief Program Officer & Larry Epp, Ed.D., LCPC, Director of School Mental Health Services, Family Services, Inc.

For over 20 years, the administrators and mental health clinicians at the Linkages to Learning (LTL) sites operated by Family Services, Inc. (FSI) sensed that their school mental health program had a special impact on its child clients and their families. They could see the daily success stories at work--the remissions in bothersome symptoms, the improvements in school work, and the many smiles that their program helped to promote. 

There are many perceived intuitive advantages of school mental health programming, and the academic community has gone to great pains to establish its validity, relevancy, and importance. School mental health clinicians have greater access to at-risk children, can see them more often in school, and can offer consultation to school administrators and teachers on how to handle their problematic behaviors in the classroom. School mental health professionals can intervene at the earliest signs of trouble, since they are often stationed where the challenging behaviors are occurring versus clinic therapists, who may not be familiar with the school context and are unable to support, or advocate for, the child and family at school. 
The importance of school success in the lives of children would seem to be axiomatic. 

The release of a four-year longitudinal evaluation funded by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by Dr. Nathan Fox and colleagues at the University of Maryland pointed to the effectiveness of the LTL approach by showing that, among other findings, the children who participated in a LTL program demonstrated less negative behaviors than a comparison group of at-risk children who did not. Since the release of this promising study, LTL has collected and reported on a variety of outcomes, but has lacked the funds to replicate a scientific study of such magnitude.

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