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Cumberland schools working to expand behavioral therapy to more schools

Board of Education committees hear about advantages of contract therapists


Cumberland County Schools is working to expand access to behavioral health therapy for students in more of the district’s schools.

Natasha Scott, executive director of student services for the district, told committees of the Cumberland County Board of Education on Tuesday that 144 students have received written consent from their parents to participate in the therapy-services program.

“Thirty-five percent of those 144 students actually received their therapy services every day at their school during the school year in a confidential area with the child and the therapist,” Scott said. “This gives us some baseline data for this year moving forward in terms of how many students, how to market the program and the next steps.”

Administrators have identified 20 schools they want to add for the program’s second year, she said.

The school system has partnered with local mental health agencies to make it easier for families and students to access mental health services. The School Behavioral Health program provides support to students at school and during the school day. 

Services include comprehensive assessment, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and training and consultation with school employees, she said.

“The purpose of bringing the program into the school district is to increase student access and continuity and consistent use of mental health services,” Scott said.

She said the district has put emphasis on increasing the number of school counselors and social workers, and the staff also includes psychologists.

The difference between what counselors employed by the district can provide versus what therapists in the School Behavioral Health program can is that school-employed counselors provide more short-term counseling, she said.

“So, they are assisting with more acute problems that students encounter throughout the day,” she said. “They also do a lot of making referrals of students and families to clinical services in the community. This gives us an option of working with the provider who is assigned to a specific school.”

School Behavioral Health counselors are licensed by a state board; school employees are licensed by the Department of Public Instruction.

Parents pay for School Behavioral Health therapy or it can be billed to their insurance provider. That’s why parent permission is required, Scott said.

“So, we can identify students and tell parents about the program or guardians and make them aware that the services are available,” she said. “Essentially, what we’re doing is just making it easier for parents to access these services for their child.”

Therapy also addresses clinical issues such as emotional or behavioral concerns versus “the more short-term things that we manage on a daily basis with our counselors and social workers and psychologists,” she said.

Scott said Cumberland County Schools has two mental health service providers.

“The goal is to eventually expand the School Behavioral Health program to all the schools in the district,” she said.

Elementary schools will be prioritized over secondary schools because secondary schools have in-school suspension and other interventions that elementary schools don’t have.

Schools in close proximity can be paired “so that from a business standpoint, it’s more worth your while” for providers, she said.

Schools initially participating in the School Behavioral Health program are Ben Martin Elementary, Morganton Road Elementary, Cliffdale Elementary, E.E. Smith High School, Ferguson-Easley Elementary, Margaret Willis Elementary, Nick Jerald Middle, Ramsey Street High, Manchester Elementary, Spring Lake Middle, Douglas Byrd High, Douglas Byrd Middle, Howard Learning Academy, Sherwood Park Elementary and W.H. Owen Elementary.

Three schools have since been added: W.T. Brown Elementary, College Lakes Elementary and Mary McArthur Elementary.

“What you will see is that these schools are essentially nested in poor attendance areas,” Scott said.

In other business Tuesday, the school board committees considered the approval of a 2022-23 professional services agreement for sign language interpretation with the Birch Agency and a 2022-23 agreement with the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind.

They also discussed an agreement with Friendly Dental Van.

All three were approved on a 4-0 vote.

Those agreements and action on the School Behavioral Health program will be taken up by the full school board at its next regular meeting.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. 

Cumberland County, Fayetteville, education, therapy