Partnership with ReferralGPS Provides Maercker D60 Families with Mental Health Resources
Supporting the overall health, wellness, and growth of students is an essential part of what a school district does. Schools are more than places where children learn new things. They are places where new concepts are introduced, interests are explored, friendships are made, and children are supported and encouraged every day. For students at Maercker District 60, there are even more resources available thanks to a partnership with Illinois based ReferralGPS, who connect students and their families to mental health care in the community.
Now entering its third year, the partnership launched in September 2021 at a time when more mental health issues were on the rise due in part to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district uses grant funds to support the partnership, originally through relief-related funding, and now through another grant to create a larger network of resources and support for students beyond what school social workers and psychologists can provide.
“Students who present with mental health challenges often require more systematic support beyond just the school,” said Director of Student Services Maureen Kidd. “They need professional support in the community that involves their parents and families and that isn’t always easy to find on your own.”
ReferralGPS uses a referral system that is regularly updated and allows families to filter for exactly the right fit for mental health services. Providers can be searched by several topics, including insurance accepted, specialty, languages spoken, gender of the clinician, and location. More than just a resource list, the service also provides Care Navigation with a real person to help with triage issues, recommend resources, and scheduling appointments much like a concierge service.
Seeking help with mental health has been a daunting task in the past, but thanks to the partnership, it is not only easy, but effective. Since its launch, D60 staff have utilized ReferralGPS to conduct almost 600 treatment searches mostly focused on anxiety, depression, stress management, and parenting strategies. Families are also able to use the site, with more than 140 families taking advantage of the program.
As an example of how the program works, if a parent was concerned that their child was skipping meals or struggling with body image, they could reach out to find a service provider. A phone call with a Care Navigator would focus first on a search for an appropriate therapist who specializes in self-esteem, body image, and eating disorders, but would also discuss resources including a therapist who could assist with parent strategies and communication. In a similar case, the Care Navigation team contacted six clinical practices, most of which had a waiting list, but they stayed persistent and were able to schedule an appointment within nine days and followed up with the parent.
“We are seeing a significant increase in mental health needs like anxiety and depression and the resources our social workers can provide don’t always match the need,” said Kidd. “Through this partnership, we are taking away barriers to getting mental health support, which is so important since without that strong foundation of mental and physical health, learning and academic success are much harder to achieve.”
The results have been incredible! Students who have had trouble finding a therapist that worked for them, or were unwilling to participate in therapy have been connected with someone who meets their needs and is closer to home. Students in grades 6-8 held discussions about depression and how to support their peers during the 2022-23 school year, which ultimately led to some students seeking services and being connected with the right resources for them and their families. There is more awareness and acceptance of the importance of mental health, but there is more work ahead.
Another aspect of the partnership is especially targeted to students and families who are experiencing homelessness. The Evergreen Program is designed to provide a specialized phone so that McKinney Vento students can access their mental healthcare provider as well as a variety of resources that will accept Medicaid or provide free services. Use of the ReferralGPS system is free for families, with the district covering the cost of access to the resources, and many providers offer sliding scale options for costs.
“It is truly a lifesaver for some of our families,” said Kidd. “It has been very well received and is much more robust than what we could offer on our own. The goal is to keep all of our students safe and meet their needs in and out of school, and ReferralGPS is allowing us to meet kids where they are at and connect them to the right support systems.”
The ReferralGPS D60 website will continue to be a resource for anyone seeking mental health services. Staff and families can access the site at https://referralgps.com/find-help/D60