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School Based Health Clinics

Have you ever thought about the school your child goes to or the school you attended as a child in terms of what they really offer outside of an education? Most schools offer before and afterschool services, house boy and girl scout troop meetings, run community recreational services, host local youth sporting events and the list goes on. Schools are most often viewed as safe places, known places in the community. Why not build upon this? Why not take advantage of the hub of a child’s life? I think there is a unique movement to do just that.

School based health clinics (SBHCs) are here and they are amazing. At the risk of boring you to death with statistics and data, I think it is important to understand the significance of what these collaborative efforts mean. Trends towards improving access to affordable health care have increased due to large grants made available by the Affordable Care Act. SBHCs represent a model of care responsive to the unique physical and mental health needs of youth and families in this accessible environment.

What are SBHCs? SBHCs are considered a crucial component of the nation’s health care safety net due to their ability to help children with acute or chronic illnesses attend school and to improve overall physical and behavioral health through routine health screening, health promotion, and mental health services (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014).

Why SBHCs? SBHCs have been shown to increase accessibility to care, reduce the use of costly emergency room visits, improve physical and emotional outcomes, and increase student-reported health-related quality of life. Specific academic outcomes for students include increased attendance and graduation rates, improvements in grades, and decreased disciplinary referrals.

Services integrated within elementary school settings can assist with early identification, referral, and treatment of children with emotional and behavioral issues and reduce the potential impact their issues may have on academic performance (Keeton et al., 2012). Providing adolescents with accessible services increases their ability to play active roles in promoting their own emotional and physical health, as mental health symptoms and exposure to violence and trauma typically occur more prevalently during this developmental period.

SBHCs are also in a pivotal position to build partnerships with families that need medical services who would otherwise not have access to consistent care. Involving families in schools has been shown to improve youth academic performance and functioning (Hill & Taylor, 2004), and having SBHCs relates to parents having more favorable perceptions of the school (Keeton et al., 2012).

Barriers… So why doesn’t every school or at least every school district have a school based health clinic? Well, for many simple and complex reasons. For example, a simple reason includes space. Have you been to your child’s school recently? There typically isn’t sufficient space to house a SBHC. Complex reasons include the amount of collaboration and partnerships involved to successfully implement a SBHC. The ability to bring the right partners to the table is a key part to the success of building the team to establish a SBHC.

How? The organization I work for, Pressley Ridge, recently opened a SBHC and is in the process of opening a second. Having established relationships with the school districts played a major factor in getting these projects off the ground, but the networking and partnering did not end there. We reached out to the county run mental health program, other organizations that provide mental health/behavioral health services, and community partners in the health field.

Additionally, we reached out to local churches, civic clubs, police stations, small community initiatives, and of course the community where the SBHC is located. We set up meetings and distributed information, not just about the organization or the SBHC, but also about the work that was going to be done there and the opportunities for education, growth, and change that an endeavor like a SBHC can offer. The details of those meetings would be enough content for ten blog posts but suffice it to say, it was about building relationships. I think at the core, SBHCs are about opportunities to engage differently and to build relationships in new ways. –Adam Miller, LPC

Adam Miller is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has 10 years’ experience working with children, adolescents, adults and families in a variety of setting including vocational rehabilitation, inpatient hospitals, Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services and Outpatient clinics. In addition to overseeing four community based programs Adam has worked on different community committees on the development of youth conferences, parent information sessions and youth initiatives. He has presented on Stress Management, Parenting ADHD Children and Parenting with Impact throughout Central PA. His current clinical work has focused on youth with self-harm behaviors utilizing both individual and group therapy.

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