Anoka-Hennepin develops school-based mental health system

Students who are struggling with mental health concerns and need help will be able to get clinical mental health services in District 11 schools from licensed mental health professionals.

Dr. Nita Kumar
Dr. Nita Kumar

The convenience is critical because families’ busy schedules are often a barrier to treatment, according to Dr. Nita Kumar, mental health consultant for Anoka-Hennepin School District.

The district has developed a new school-based mental health program that will go well beyond the prevention and intervention services it has provided to this point through a contracted service.

In the past, if it was determined that a student needed clinical mental health services, the family was required to make arrangements and bring the child to a community-based mental health provider.

This often meant parents had to take time off work to transport their child and sometimes they were simply unable to follow through, especially if they didn’t have health insurance coverage or had coverage with high cost-sharing, according to Kumar.

Parents will be required to give consent for their children to receive clinical mental health services, Kumar said.

The district signed a contract June 24 with Headway Emotional Health Services to provide 14 full-time clinicians who have either masters or doctoral degrees and are licensed as either social workers, psychologists, professional clinical counselors or family therapists. The services are scheduled to begin fall 2013.

A large share of the cost will be covered by billing students’ health insurance plans.

“The district will cover the cost of unreimbursable services, but insurance will cover the cost of necessary clinical mental health services,” said Kumar.

“Our contractor will do the billing so the district will not need to take that on. This contract is a unique arrangement. We are breaking new ground and we are excited about the expansion of student and family support.”

District funds will cover costs for students who are uninsured or underinsured. “A child who is medically in need of mental health services will be able to get it,” Kumar said.

“If a high co-pay or deductible is standing in the way, the child will still get help because of the flexibility built into this program.”

Other unique aspects to the program are the availability of service during the summer and the potential for therapists to conduct sessions at families’ homes in some circumstances.

The new services will complement the student support currently provided by other student support staff, including school counselors, school psychologists, social workers and others, according to Dr. Jinger Gustafson, associate superintendent for middle schools who also oversees the student services department.

“Since we are able to offer specific mental health services through our school-based mental health model, we are able to reach out to even more students who may be experiencing academic, behavior and social struggles,” Gustafson said.

“We are able to align our support services to meet the specific needs of our students and families which is a key factor in student achievement.”

Gustafson and Kumar believe the program will be a great asset to the district and ultimately improve achievement for students.

“We know that mental health issues are a barrier to learning,” Kumar said.

“If we can help kids meet their social-emotional needs better, then they will be more open to learning. It will also help teachers because there will be someone to intervene with students who are struggling. School climate in general will improve.”

Kumar is now working in partnership with a mental health agency to apply for a share of the $43 million school-linked grant funded through the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

If the district’s grant proposal is successful, the district will be able to add 10 or more mental health positions through a partnership with a mental health agency. The district may get word as early as October on this potential funding.

Even without the grant, however, the program is scheduled to expand to include more district sites. “We want district staff to observe the early warning signs of mental health issues, engage parents and make referrals for services,” Kumar said.

“If medically necessary services are identified and the services can be provided effectively in a school setting, our contracted mental health partner will provide them.”