After a two-week stay at a psychiatric facility, a ninth-grader was scheduled to return to school. But she begged to be allowed to stay home that first day, and her parents acquiesced, worried that returning too soon would trigger a rehospitalization.
A day turned into a week, and the school realized they needed help. So, they consulted with McLean’s School Consultation Service (SCS).
Launched in 2017, the SCS brings the expertise of six psychologists and two psychiatrists to 69 K-12 schools throughout Massachusetts. These experts in child and adolescent mental health provide individual case consultations, therapeutic classroom consultation, and professional development to school staff, as well as webinars for parents.
“We consult on a wide range of issues and if it’s outside our wheelhouse—for example substance use or eating disorders—we bring in other McLean experts to help,” said Program Director Maggie Gorraiz, PhD.
In the case of the ninth-grader, a McLean psychologist helped the school devise a plan to gradually ease the teen back into her old routine, using an evidence-based approach called exposure therapy. During her first days back, the student attended only her favorite classes, and gradually added others that might be more anxiety-producing.
“It’s like learning to swim,” explained Gorraiz. “You don’t learn by hanging on the side of the pool. You start in the shallow end and gradually work your way to the deep end.” The SCS also counseled the school about how to talk to the parents.
“Parents mean well and don’t realize that sometimes their own fears and distress can get in the way,” she added.
Christine Robinson-Conseison, MSW, LICSW, district director of mental health for the Burlington Public School System, is grateful for her long association with the SCS.
“This partnership has been instrumental in helping us adopt evidence-based mental health programming,” she said. “It has made a tremendous difference in our teams’ approaches to helping Burlington students thrive in their social-emotional well-being.”
This year, thanks to a generous multi-year grant from Apricus Principle, the program is extending the reach of its services into communities that have limited access to mental health expertise. This major gift is aimed at bringing services to under-resourced schools or school districts.
SCS psychologist Yudelki Firpo-Perretti, PhD, recently created two on-demand webinars in Spanish that focus on helping caregivers understand and manage their children’s emotions.
“Across many cultures, the primary concerns in child and adolescent mental health are related to anxiety and depression,” she explained. “Representation matters,” added Firpo-Perretti, who is Dominican-American. “When you see someone who shares similar cultural experiences, the material is more likely to resonate with you.”
The team has also recorded two presentations for Brazilian-Portuguese speakers, and they plan to create at least four Spanish and Portuguese webinars each year. They eventually plan to expand into other languages.
Bank of America has generously supported the SCS.
“The Bank of America Charitable Foundation is proud to partner with McLean to help vulnerable youth blossom and, one day, contribute toward building a thriving community,” said Ebony Thomas, president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.
“Extending this work across diverse communities supports our mission to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.”
Gorraiz and her team are acutely aware of the powerful impact that philanthropy has had on the growth of the program.
“The level of post-pandemic school refusal has gone through the roof and our services are in huge demand,” she said. “We absolutely would not be where we are today without the partnership and generosity of our supporters. It’s humbling.”
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