Mental health: Supporting your children in school

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This is our last column from State Representative Liz Linehan (D-103) dealing with mental health issues involving children and adolescents. If you missed any of these columns, they are posted on our website, www.cheshireherald.com, under “Opinion”, “Guest columns”.

This is the fifth and final installment in my series on children’s mental health, in partnership with The herald.

Each of these columns was meant to follow the natural progression of a child in crisis. First, we looked at the warning signs, then we introduced parents to different ways to find help with counseling, home care, and safety plans, and then we focused on l family unit and what the support of all family members can look like. . We’ll end this series with an important part of the continuing care details on how to support your children in school.

We are very fortunate to have a school system that places such importance on mental health and well-being. I have asked Marie Broadway, Secondary Supervisor of Special Education at Cheshire Public Schools, and Ben Chaback, Certified Clinical Social Worker at Dodd Middle School, to write me a summary of the programs available for your child in the one of our schools. Here’s what they had to say:

“Many parents are unaware of the supports that CPA provides in each of their buildings to support the social / emotional development of students. To begin with, each school employs school counselors, school psychologists and school social workers (from middle school to high school). These mental health professionals assist students throughout the school day to access their education while meeting their social / emotional needs.

It is important for parents to know that mental health professionals from each school are there for their children throughout the school day. On a related note, the mental health needs of students are common every day, so don’t feel alone if you seek help. CPS school mental health professionals are versed in many levels of intervention, such as (but not limited to) conflict resolution, management, bereavement / loss counseling, school avoidance, self-injury and suicide intervention. They also serve as a safe place for students to speak with someone outside of the classroom for advice on any obstacle a student may face.

If deemed appropriate, scheduled individual and / or group counseling may be provided in the school to meet a student’s needs, and mental health professionals may consult with any external provider, and they may help parents deal with the challenges they face with their student at home versus at school.

Many CPS schools are also fortunate to have support animals. Our elementary schools partner with Pet Partners who bring in therapy animals such as trained dogs to work with students and staff twice a month. Other schools, like Dodd, also have small pets. These therapy animals make for a soothing companion during a class break or to join in during individual / group counseling.

In short, student mental health journeys should never be walked individually and the school is always willing and able to be there for support and expertise as part of a collaborative approach among students, families. and external providers.

All of this is wonderful, but how do you get there exactly? There are a few ways. First of all, I suggest that you simply contact the administrator of your child’s school about the challenges your family is facing. Many times a first response can be done with a simple phone call, and the right people at school will work with you to give your child what he needs to be successful. If you need a bigger intervention, there are several ways to do it.

A 504 plan can be helpful. The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects people with disabilities, and section 504 of this federal law specifically protects students. If your child has a physical or mental disability that significantly limits one or more major life activities, your pediatrician may write a letter to the school stating this diagnosis, then the school will endeavor to provide accommodations for your child to that his disability does hamper their ability to learn.

There are no set rules about what these accommodations should be. By simply making a list of things that are of concern to your child, the school often has suggestions on how to help. You can also suggest your own, for example if your child’s anxiety gets worse when they feel stuck or stuck in a classroom, you can ask that they be seated near a door or allowed to walk. in the hallway during downtime.

When targeted interventions fail, Cheshire Public Schools provide a continuum of services to support the learning, behavioral and social / emotional needs of students with identified disabilities. A planning and placement team is responsible for developing individualized education plans, which are implemented by general education, special education and student services staff to meet the specific educational needs of the student. every child. Parents are an integral part of this important educational process.

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) provides specialized instruction and related services to meet a child’s unique needs. Not all children will be eligible for an IEP. To be eligible, your child must have one of the 13 disabilities listed in the Disability Education Act (IDEA). Disability must affect a child’s educational performance and / or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum, and the child must need special education to progress in school. Among these 13 categories of disability listed, there are “emotional disorders”. Various mental health problems can be categorized as “emotional disorders”. They can include anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. In order to qualify, a full assessment and psychological assessment report must be compiled, after which the team will meet again to discuss next steps.

I know there is fear associated with having these things on your child’s “permanent record”, but you’ve come all the way knowing your child needs help. Don’t let fear of the stigma associated with mental health issues stop you from giving your child the help they need. Especially in the years surrounding COVID, there will be more and more of these assessments and IEPs; your child is not alone. If your child is eligible for the IEP, other arrangements can be made to give them every chance of success.

The important takeaway from this entire series is that there are support services for every child, family and parent, and your family is not alone in facing these challenges. If you or someone you love needs assistance, please contact one of the many support services listed in this series, or visit my web page at housedems.ct.gov/Linehan for a downloadable version of the services. of pediatric mental health in the region. I’ll leave you with something Ben Chaback told me months ago, which I literally think about every day: “In order for our children to grow up healthy, we need to water their roots, not cut their leaves.” By accessing treatment and services, you help your child develop survival skills for self-healing, resilience, and good mental health care. In other words, you are helping to “water their roots”.

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