School District Collaboration Helps Students

Fighting with a classmate. Sent to the principal’s office again. Avoiding school. Grades dropping. Engaging in self-harm. Unhappy, but does anyone really understand why?

These are just some of the issues that led to collaboration between Family Counseling Services (FCS) and local school districts. School districts recognize students who are struggling based on school discipline history, low attendance rates, and difficulty socializing with their peers. Those struggles are often exacerbated by the digital age and social media bullying. When students are in conflicts, bullied or perceive that they are not accepted or liked by classmates, they tend to avoid school. More of the student’s attention and energy is taken with these issues rather than being able to concentrate on learning and school participation.

The partnership between FCS and local schools was launched in an effort to make a difference for the youth in our community. Professional counselors from FCS are now providing services right at the school, making it easy for students to benefit from individualized mental health counseling without leaving the school building.

The counseling provided by a school-based clinic does not replace counseling services provided at the school. Both can provide individual and group counseling and work with parents. School social workers provide all the counseling suggested on a child’s Individual Education Plan and address the needs of the child in relation to learning. The FCS counselor in a school-based clinic does more formal diagnosis and provides counseling to a small percentage of children who have more troubling mental health issues. Many issues can impact learning, so there may be an instance where services overlap.

Counseling services are geared to the needs of each student but often help them learn and enhance basic and advanced skills including, but not limited to: regulation of emotions, stress tolerance and reduction, mindfulness, self-care, effective interpersonal communication skills, and conflict resolution. Counseling helps students experience improved self-esteem and decreased feelings of depression and anxiety. Through this intervention, students can increase positive interactions with peers, family and other adults by replacing ineffective behaviors with positive strategies that help them achieve their goals, and meet academic requirements and classroom expectations while leading healthier lifestyles.

With one in five children having a mental health challenge, school-based counseling is one more option to meet the need for services. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds. The earlier children receive services to address their mental health needs the better the outcome.

The school-based counseling service is available at many locations including: Cortland, Cincinnatus, DeRuyter, Homer, Hartnett, Marathon, McGraw and the Cortland Alternative School. Students can be referred to the program by their parents, guardians, social workers, guidance counselors, principals and others. In addition to the direct services provided to students, the counselors meet with parents or guardians at the start of services and at least once a month thereafter.

Along with school efforts and counseling clinics in the school, Cortland County participates in Early Recognition Screening, provided through Family Counseling Services. This screen is a quick check of the social and emotional health of all youth in the county. Parents/guardians complete a screening form consisting of 17 questions about social, emotional and behavioral functioning. Results are confidential and parents are only contacted if a possible concern is indicated on their child’s screening form. Parents decide what is right for their child and whether or not to seek further services. If interested, families are connected to community resources and services.

We all must work together to meet the mental health needs of our youth. Having counseling clinics in schools is one way to add to the crucial work our schools are already doing. If you would like more information about the school-based counseling program and other services, please call Family Counseling Services at (607) 749-0013.

Family Counseling Services is a non-profit organization serving both Cortland and Madison Counties. FCS was established in 1970 as a volunteer family counseling service based in Cortland, NY. It has since evolved into a professional organization that offers mental health, chemical dependency, and school-based counseling, as well as prevention services through its prevention division, Cortland Prevention Resources.