Free mental telehealth services coming to Crystal Lake and McHenry school districts

A Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 student participates in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said the pandemic exacerbated mental health struggles for many students, and District 47 is partnering with a telehealth service to provide more mental health support.

Students in Crystal Lake-based School District 47 and McHenry Elementary School District 15 will have access to free mental health teletherapy sessions.

The elementary school districts are partnering with Daybreak Health, a California-based provider of school-based mental health services, to provide virtual teletherapy sessions with qualified mental health clinicians. Districts 47 and 15 are the first in the state to provide Daybreak services, according to a District 47 news release.

Students will be referred to Daybreak’s program through school social workers, counselors and psychologists based on needs and accessibility, according to the release. From there, Daybreak clinicians will create personalized care plans with each family. Family teletherapy will be available for students ages 5 to 10, and solo teletherapy is provided for students ages 10 and up. The goal is to break down common barriers including limited or no insurance and lack of access to on-site clinics.

“While not intended to replace long-term therapy provided by local practitioners, the introduction of this teletherapy program aims to assist students facing mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, trauma, and depression, among others,” District 47 Director of Communications and Public Engagement Kari Firak said in the release.

Daybreak, which works with over 80 districts nationwide, started in 2019 to create mental health care specifically tailored to children, Daybreak Chief Operating Officer Sid Cidambi said. Teletherapy is a way to provide licensed clinicians to anyone in the country while providing convenience for families. The most common teletherapy sessions are scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m., Cidambi said.

“It was always a core part of the delivery model. The [COVID-19] pandemic made it super-charged,” he said.

Students in Crystal Lake-based School District 47 and McHenry-based School District 15 will have access to free mental health teletherapy sessions.

Daybreak’s services started in April and will be provided for one year until May 2025. The district will take a look at the service’s effectiveness before making it a permanent option, District 47 Director of Social Emotional Learning Kristin Schmidt said.

District 15 has the same program as District 47′s, District 15 Communication and Digital Media Coordinator Jen Tossey said.

Schmidt hopes the services will improve attendance and emotional regulation to help students reach their fullest potential for learning.

“I think if we can teach kids that you’re allowed to have feelings, and you can feel anything you want, you just have to learn how to manage that and express that in a way that’s respectful to yourself and others, then to me that is the greatest impact that we can have,” she said. “If you look at most mental health diagnoses, they are rooted in some type of emotional regulation issue.”

District 47 used a U.S. Department of Education School-Based Mental Health Grant that provides $5.6 million over five years, Schmidt said. The grant also helped the district add more clinicians and counselors in the schools.

“It has absolutely been an avenue for us to add additional clinicians so that we can do more preventative support for our students and do some more things that are more difficult to do when your clinician base is rooted in special ed funding,” she said.

The district does not have an estimated number of students that will use Daybreak, but Schmidt has seen about 30 referrals in the first six weeks as services are provided over the summer. The district will track success by looking at grades, attendance rates and surveys from teachers, students and families, she said.

One out of every six children aged 6 to 17 in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder each year, making them three times more likely to repeat a grade, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. By increasing access to therapy, Daybreak reports 8 in 10 school staff observe more positive behavior at school and 81% of students experienced a reduction in symptoms after completing their 12-week program while nearly 92% of parents report improved symptoms at home.

Schmidt hopes this is “just the beginning” of mental health services for students and it grows to bring access to all districts.

“We want it to be a collaborative partnership not only with Daybreak but also with the families,” she said, adding students “can’t come to school and be ready for academics without having all of those primary needs met, and that mental health piece is essential for that.”

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