Molalla brings school-based mental health services to students
Recently, at least six area youth have committed suicide, and Molalla has only narrowly escaped that outcome, having transported 10 high school students so far this academic year to hospitals because of emergency mental health situations. To address the needs in Molalla's schools, district leaders have decided to partner with Trillium Family Services to bring mental health treatment to students.
"Ten by the end of January is kind of staggering." -Matthew Rubrecht, MHS counselor
"So far at the high school just this year, we've had 10 medical transports, which means that students are in such crisis and suicidal ideation that they need immediate service at an emergency room for an evaluation," MHS Counselor Matthew Rubrecht said at February's school board meeting. "Ten by the end of January is kind of staggering. Generally, you end up with 10 per school year, and we're at 10 already and we're only half way through."
Rubrecht was one of several school counselors present at February's school board meeting as a part of a presentation to convince the board of directors to vote in favor of a partnership with Trillium Family Services. Also involved in the presentation were Michael Salitore, MRSD's director of supported education, Galli Murray, Clackamas County's youth suicide prevention coordinator and Lana Shotwell, Trillium Family Services vice president of operations.
Murray pointed out that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for youth, that Clackamas County has a higher rate of suicide than Washington County and Multnomah County, that Clackamas County has a 16 percent higher rate of suicide than the national rate and that rural youth are at greater risk of suicide than their urban peers.
"These are not new numbers. This is not new information. The difference is that we have to start being more intentional about this work." -Galli Murray, Clackamas County youth suicide prevention coordinator
"These are not new numbers. This is not new information," Murray said. "The difference is that we have to start being more intentional about this work. We have to start being intentional about having these conversations. We have to be intentional about getting people help earlier."
She added, "So the idea of having Trillium come into the school is a wonderful one. I've worked with Trillium for many, many years in a lot of different capacities, and I have the utmost respect for the work that they do, and they can definitely make a difference…It would be a wonderful gift to the community."
After extensive and at times heated discussion, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the partnership. Board members Linda Eskridge and Craig Loughridge both voted nay, having described their objections during the meeting.
"I look at this as being a slippery slope..." -Craig Loughridge, MRSD board member
Both Eskridge's and Loughridge's concerns primarily centered on Oregon laws passed in recent years which dictate that: medical professionals can provide birth control information and services to any person regardless of age, a minor 15 years or older may give consent to medical care without parental consent and a minor 14 years or older can obtain mental health treatment without parental consent (in this case, the professional must involve the parents before the end of treatment unless the child has been sexually abused by a parent or is emancipated), per the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
Loughridge mentioned instances in areas outside Molalla where professionals gave birth control to kids as young as 10 years old.
"I look at this as being a slippery slope in that direction," Loughridge said.
But Shotwell, of Trillium Family Services which has been providing school-based mental health treatment to metro area schools for more than 20 years, assured those present at the meeting that their process involves working closely with school counselors and the families of students. She also pleaded for a level of trust as a part of the partnership.
"...If a kid comes to us, I would hope that you guys would have faith in us to do well by that child." -Lana Shotwell, Trillium Family Services vice president of operations
"Therapists, just like doctors, our goal is to do no harm," Shotwell said. "So, if a kid comes to us, I would hope that you guys would have faith in us to do well by that child."
Further, counselors asserted the need for services not only at the high school, but at the elementary and middle school levels as well.
"We are seeing self-harming at the elementary school level," said Shilo Wittrock-Laccino, counselor at Mulino Elementary and Rural Dell Elementary. "I am not exaggerating."
Salitore and Molalla River Middle School Counselor Michelle Lowe also pointed to the fact that school counselors are not meant to be substitutes for therapists.
"Our job is to be a school counselor, not a therapist." -Michelle Lowe, MRMS counselor
"Our job is to be a school counselor, not a therapist," Lowe said. "We don't have the luxury to sit with a kid for an hour. Sometimes we do sit with a kid for an hour because we have to, but we're supposed to serve all our kids, and I have nearly 300 students on my caseload…and if you know anything about middle-schoolers, they're needy."
Salitore cited the American School Counselor Association, which describes the role of counselors this way: "School counselors do not provide therapy or long-term counseling in schools to address psychological disorders. However, school counselors are prepared to recognize and respond to student mental health crises and needs. School counselors address those barriers to student success by offering education, prevention and crisis and short-term intervention to include group counseling until the student is connected with available community resources. When students require long-term counseling or therapy, school counselors make referrals to appropriate community resources."
With the partnership solidified and effective March 1, 2018, Trillium Family Services will stand as that community resource. They will hire a master's level mental health professional to provide treatment and the district will provide the space at the school district office, which will allow them to continue students' treatments throughout summer months. The plan is to provide services to students who have the Oregon Health Plan, but depending on the person they hire, Trillium Family Services may be able to accept private insurance.
"...To be in partnership with Trillium Family Services and provide access to mental health supports, I believe at the end of the day, may save one life. And saving one life alone is worth it." -Tony Mann, MRSD superintendent
"At the end of the day, there is no shame in having a mental health crisis, and there is no shame in being the parent of a child who has a mental health obstacle," Superintendent Tony Mann said. "It's part of the normal human experience. And, schools and parents alone can't take responsibility for supporting children who are experiencing a mental health crisis. It is a healthcare matter. So to be in partnership with Trillium Family Services and provide access to mental health supports, I believe, at the end of the day, may save one life. And saving one life alone is worth it."
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