Lutheran Community Services will provide on-site counseling at three elementary schools

A unique public-private partnership providing school-based mental health counseling services for elementary-age children in McMinnville is set to expand to three schools in the Newberg area this fall.

Lutheran Community Services Northwest of Yamhill County (LCSNW) and Yamhill County Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) first partnered together to place a counselor on site at two elementary schools in the McMinnville School District during the 2015-2016 school year.

After being piloted at Wascher and Sue Buel elementary schools for two and a half years, the program will expand to Dundee, Edwards and Joan Austin elementary schools in Newberg for 2018-2019.

"I'm really grateful for partners like LCSNW. Our students increasingly need mental health support and we're so glad to have this partner at our elementary schools," Newberg interim superintendent Joe Morelock said. "This is new for us and will make a huge difference for our students and staff, helping us address additional grade levels as we currently partner with Yamhill County at our middle school level and Providence at the high school level."

According to LCSNW, school staff at Wascher and Sue Buell reported an improvement in symptoms and behaviors while also reducing the amount of time spent away from the classroom compared to what a student would typically experience if they had to leave school for an external counseling appointment.

"School and mental health staff are able to coordinate in-school supports and care more easily and families have the convenience of meeting their child's counselor at the school instead of a traditional clinic setting," said Jes Dimas, an LCSNW clinician who manages the school program. "Any time you can take away a barrier to accessing mental health services for children, you gain positive results."

The program expanded to two more McMinnville schools in 2017-2018 and the current expansion will extend services to cover all McMinnville elementary schools, as well as those in the Amity School District. In all, the program will now serve 10 schools in Yamhill County and serve both English and Spanish speakers.

Counselors like Aleja Graham-Ubaldo --who will be on site from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. one day per week at Dundee, Edwards and Joan Austin -- are on staff with LCSNW and will see students referred to by school counselors. LCSNW will also provide skills coaches who will follow up with parents and teachers to help them reinforce what students learn in counseling sessions when they are at home and in the classroom.

"We've been doing mental health for very young children for a long time," said Garrick-Steenson, a marketing and events specialist with LCSNW's A Family Place relief nursery. "It was one of the very first services we offered starting in the '80s. We've worked with the county to provide early childhood mental health services in several different settings and we started working in McMinnville schools in 2015-2016. It's been very successful, so they've invited us to expand that program because we have the staff and the experience to do it."

Counseling services are free to students covered by the Oregon Health Plan or the Yamhill Community Care Organization once enrolled with the LCSNW. LCSNW receives its funding from OHP and YCCO, but also helps families with other forms of insurance connect to services or enroll in OHP/YCCO.

"The school counselors will make sure if it's a good fit and there will be a process to get the child signed up and the parents notified," Garrick-Steenson said. "The school counselors are very much our partner in this. We are not replacing them but offering additional services in support."

A rise in unregulated students and disruptive behavior has been an emerging problem in some Newberg school buildings in the past few years and was a major topic of discussion amid the process this past spring to cut nearly $4 million from the 2018-2019 budget.

Garrick-Steenson noted that it's a problem not only at the across the county, but also nationwide. She pointed to data from the Association for Children's Mental Health indicating that one in five children and youth have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder, and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school or in the community.

Dundee principal Reed Langdon announced the program to parents through an email, asserting that Graham-Ubaldo "will be a consistent face and support to our school community."

"Our goal is to support all Dundee students and provide them with what they need to be successful students," Langdon continued. "We are so excited to have Aleja on the team and part of our Dundee family."

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