Who Provides Mental Health Services in Schools
School-Based Health Clinics
In some communities, there are “School-Based Health Clinics” where students and their families can come to the school for all medical, social-emotional, and/or behavioral issues. For a list of Connecticut State Funded School-Based Health Clinics, please click here to go to the the Connecticut Association of School Based Health Centers webpage. In your state, you can ask for a list of school-based health clinics from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Education or your Board of Education. School-based health clinics provide a range of supports for children and families including physical and mental health services. In communities that have school-based health clinics, these services are available to all children who attend that school.
There are many different types of school mental health professionals and service providers who work with children in schools to provide services. Some providers specialize in specific services or programs and others provide a wider range of services. Your school Guidance or Special Education Departments can help you identify these individuals in your school or district and determine who may best meet your needs.
School Counselors are professionals who work with all students, school staff, families and members of the community as an integral part of the education program. They help students by assisting them in making decisions and by teaching strategies for school success.
In order to achieve program success, school counselors deliver classroom lessons and provide individual and small group counseling on a variety of topics. They consult and collaborate with teachers, staff and parents to understand and meet the needs of students and remove barriers to student learning. Counselors address academic, career and personal/social developmental needs of all students. They adhere to professional standards and continuously pursue professional growth activities. Please visit the American School Counselor Association website for more information.
School Social Worker
A school social worker is a trained mental health provider, generally with a master’s degree in social work, who provides a range of prevention and intervention services for students and their families as it pertains to their education. These services range from school level prevention and school climate initiatives, to peer mediation, group-based interventions, individual counseling and behavior planning, and crisis intervention. School social workers often serve as a liaison between families and the school and as an advocate for the best interests of the child by participating in PPT meetings, providing outreach, home visits, and linkage to community-based services and supports. For more information about school social workers, visit the website for the School Social Work Association of America.
School psychologists are masters or doctoral-level behavioral health providers trained to provide psychological testing, assessment, prevention, and intervention services in the school setting. School psychologists offer a variety of therapeutic and assessment services to help students with academic and learning difficulties such as formal evaluation and consultation; counseling or therapy to address family stressors in the home environment; skill development to address social, emotional, and behavioral problems; and evidence-based treatments to address identified or diagnosed conditions, all with a goal of improving a student’s academic, social, and emotional functioning. School psychologists are integral to the school community, also providing consultation to parents and families, staff, and administration and facilitating referrals for services outside of the school as needed. To learn more about school psychology, visit the National Association for School Psychology website.
School nurses or nurse practitioners receive specialized training to provide services and supports to prevent and treat general health and wellness concerns of students and to promote a safe and healthy school environment. Most school nurses have earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and are licensed registered nurses. In many states, including Connecticut, a school nursing certification is required for nurses to practice in schools. Nurses are often the first school staff member to be consulted for students with emerging mental health concerns and they often consult with other health and mental health professionals outside of the school through referral and case management. Visit the website for the National Association of School Nurses to learn more.
A paraprofessional educator, which also may be referred to as a “para,” teacher’s assistant, classroom aide, or one-to-one, works in a school teaching position that covers a wide variety of school-based activities. Paraprofessionals may complete administrative duties for the school or classroom, provide supervision or monitoring of individuals or groups of students, engage in teaching or tutoring, assist with classroom behavior management, or have specialized training to provide particular academic or behavioral interventions for students with special needs. Paraprofessionals working in special education departments may provide general support and assistance to the primary teacher or may be assigned to provide individualized support to one student throughout the day based on the child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) requirements. Training and education requirements for paraprofessionals vary among states, but generally require a high school diploma or associate’s degree. Some states or districts require bachelor’s level degrees or additional certification.
Natural and Informal Supports
In addition to consulting with the various school mental health professionals listed above, you are also encouraged to seek support from natural and informal supports in your community. As a parent or caregiver, you play a critical primary role in your child’s health and development. You and other family members, friends, and other important people in your child’s life such as coaches, religious clergy, child care providers, and mentors are considered natural and informal supports—people who have a personal relationship with the child and can be called upon in times of need to provide help and support, but do not typically have a formal or paid role as a service provider for the family. These are people who can assist you in preventing, identifying, and monitoring the mental health needs of your child by doing things like attending meetings with you, providing transportation to appointments, providing childcare when you have appointments or just need a break, supporting your child’s strengths and interests, or by just listening when you need to talk.