Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Behavioral health specialists could be at Arlington high schools this winter

According to the district, behavioral health services could be in place in high schools by November or December of this year.

After a small spike in student deaths earlier this year, which included the fatal overdose of a 14-year-old Wakefield High School student, Arlington Public Schools and the district government began developing a joint response to the twin epidemics of substance use and mental health problems.

These included plans to place district therapists in schools. The aim was to give students access to psychological support from the Dept. of Human Services, which is overseen by Arlington’s Community Services Board (CSB).

“Both APS and the county are attempting to reduce barriers for children and youth receiving Arlington CSB services,” a county report states. “This agreement allows for the provision of outpatient services in the school setting rather than in the office setting. This significantly reduces or eliminates the need for transportation and potential family time away from work.”

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As part of the 2024 budget passed earlier this year, the Arlington County Board approved $520,000 in ongoing funding and four full-time staff members for this program. According to the report, the hiring of the four employees is underway.

The county notes that the program responds to community calls for more services for youth.

“Expanded behavioral health services for children and youth have been identified as a community need by both Arlington Public Schools and the County through ongoing dialogues with stakeholders,” the report states.

The report emphasizes that the school-based behavioral health program cannot be the sole, decisive solution for struggling youth.

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It “complements and strengthens families’ efforts to improve adolescent psychological well-being by teaching and coaching adolescents to develop coping strategies for dealing with emotional challenges to improve functioning at home, school, and in the community.” , the report says.

The county and APS spent the summer developing a memorandum of understanding that would allow the DHS Children’s Behavioral Health Bureau to provide behavioral health supports in high schools. This weekend, the district administration will ratify the document.

Once the four behavioral health specialists are hired and complete mandatory training, they could begin practicing at Arlington high schools in November or December, the report said.

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