A Guiding Hand

The Children’s Home of Cincinnati provides mental-health services to kids What started as an organization focused on saving children from neglect, abuse and poverty has evolved into a group that also provides mental-health services in partnership with neighborhood schools.

The Children’s Home of Cincinnati—a private, nonprofit organization and a leading provider of education and mental health treatment for children facing significant social, behavioral and learning challenges—is now the mental health lead agency for 56 different school buildings, says Debbie Gingrich, senior director of community behavioral health.

Founded in 1864, The Children’s Home of Cincinnati offers 20-plus services to its clients, including education at its nonpublic, private schools; early childhood and school-aged programs, adult and child mental health treatment and therapy. All of its programs focus on children’s behavioral health and therapy.

The shift from on-site delivery of mental-health care to school-based care started between 15 and 20 years ago, says Gingrich. That’s because agency officials realized it was difficult for families to disrupt the parents’ workday by taking children out of school regularly for appointments.

“So we started partnering with local schools, neighborhood schools, and offering services as part of the school’s community center,” she says. Schools provided a natural fit for The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, says Gingrich, because already children were able to get dental care, vision care, after-school yoga classes, etc. in the buildings.

“School is first and foremost this academic institution, but it’s also a resource for the neighborhood,” she says.

The Children’s Home of Cincinnati now has a team of 150 professionals, including therapists, care coordinators and doctors, that are in the schools all day. The schools provide an office space, mail slot and designated phone extension for members of The Children’s Home of Cincinnati team, Gingrich says.

“They’re part of the school team and they function just like a staff person at the school—only their role is the mental health professional,” she says. Some teams The Children’s Home of Cincinnati has in schools consist of just one person, a therapist, and other teams are larger with a care manager and psychiatrist, says Gingrich.

The therapist working at the school partners with the school principal, school psychologist, teachers and the parent-teacher organizations, she says. That way the therapist is able to respond to any child in the school who might have a mental health need, says Gingrich.

Referrals can come from anyone at the school, including teachers, school staff, parents and even the students themselves, she says. “They could just say, ‘I’m concerned about this student,’ and then our therapists work with the parent and the child,” says Gingrich. “We would schedule a meeting with the parent and the child and begin an assessment process.”

The assessment process would include a thorough exam to determine if there’s a mental-health condition and then deciding the treatment options such as therapy, a medical evaluation or case management, she says.

“We go through that process with the child and family identifying what their goals are or what their kind of identified needs and supports are and then we go from there,” says Gingrich.

Although every situation is different, she says the school-based mental health teams at The Children’s Home of Cincinnati’s typically see kids that have disruptive behavioral issues. “You see their emotions through their behaviors so maybe they’re really volatile, really edgy, really touchy, easily irritated and you see that,” she says.

The cause could be depression, anxiety, a history of trauma, experiencing a significant loss, a history of abuse, domestic violence or seeing neighborhood violence, says Gingrich.

“Sometimes those things come out and sometimes it might be like [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] or autism or a learning challenge so just a variety of different presentations,” she says.

The Children’s Home of Cincinnati works with children of all ages. It has an early childhood specialty team that works with children under the age of 8, says Gingrich. It also works with children in elementary, middle and high school.

“We have a team that works with the kids that have mental health and substance use disorders,” she says. “So if a youth is maybe abusing alcohol or marijuana and also has depression or anxiety we can work with them and treat both conditions at the same time.”

But children aren’t the only ones The Children’s Home of Cincinnati treats. The organization also offers a counseling for caregivers program for caregivers of any of the children it is working with, says Gingrich. “Sometimes the adults and the family need their own care and support,” she says.

The Children’s Home of Cincinnati also offers training for other professionals, such as teachers, says Gingrich. “Education is not what it was. Things have really evolved and teachers are responding to kids that have experienced trauma or have depression, considering suicide, you know all these kind of things that teachers now have to respond to. Teachers aren’t trained in mental health so they need some additional guidance.”

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