JFS Perspectives

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Saving Grace: School-Based Mental Health Spells Success for Kids

Saving Grace: School-Based Mental Health Spells Success for Kids

At 10 years old, Grace Allen is smart, inquisitive, and loves to learn. Her big, warm smile complements her obvious desire to engage. Her favorite subject is math, with science a close second. Her dream is to become a baker (she loves cookies) or maybe a doctor. Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to figure all that out.

Grace has some serious challenges that are limiting her ability to learn at school. A fourth grader at Samuels Elementary School in southeast Denver, she struggles to sit still, focus on her work, and control her emotions.

Grace suffers from Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and anxiety. It limits her ability to regulate her emotions, hindering her ability to appropriately respond to conflict or frustration. She struggles to problem-solve for herself and has difficulty looking at the whole situation she is involved with. Her condition limits her ability to learn in the classroom and is disruptive to other children and her teachers.

Grace AllenGrace’s issues were so severe that her previous school asked that she not return this year. The school wasn’t equipped to respond to her needs and had to consider the welfare and education of the other students. That’s when she transferred to Samuels Elementary School, that had the benefit of the JFS KidSuccess program on campus.

“Grace’s behavior is not only disruptive to her teachers and her own learning but impacts the other 30-plus children in the classroom and limits their ability to learn,” says Jessica Allen, Grace’s mother. “Before Grace had access to the JFS KidSuccess program, it was also disruptive to my husband and me. We were frequently called to come and pick up Grace from school—regardless of what we might be involved in at work. In one instance last year, the school called the police to intervene even though Grace wasn’t violent, which further escalated an already heightened situation. The school just didn’t have the right people to help Grace and kids like her.”

Grace’s condition has significantly improved now that she has access to mental health therapy at school. Amanda Carter is a licensed clinical social worker who works for JFS at Samuels Elementary School, supporting children from preschool to 5th grade with a variety of mental health issues. She works with children, families, and teachers to treat children experiencing mental health issues to help them cope and ultimately succeed at school.

Now that Grace has the benefit of a licensed therapist at school, she’s learning how to cope and manage her behavior. She is learning to understand the triggers that can upset her and works to keep herself calm before upsetting herself or other kids in her class. And she can get the help she needs when she needs it. “Because of the KidSuccess program, Grace has a shot at a normal education and the opportunity to stay in school,” says Jessica.

Amanda and GraceAmanda meets with Grace on a weekly basis and whenever she needs extra support. Grace knows that Amanda is there for her when she needs her, which is a great comfort for her. “I love Miss Amanda,” exclaims Grace. “When I feel mad, she always tries to help me. She helps me calm down.” Amanda is working with Grace to help her control her anger and recognize the triggers that upset her. Grace is learning to take accountability for her own behavior. Amanda is always available if Grace is involved in an emotionally charged situation and can calm her down. Amanda has provided Grace with a variety of coping strategies that she can use to keep her emotions in check.

Amanda is helping Grace outside of school, as well. Based on her observations of Grace in the school setting, she discerned that Grace could benefit from another psychiatric evaluation. Amanda consulted with Grace’s psychiatrist and suggested an evaluation by a JFS psychiatrist. All parties agreed, including Grace’s parents. The evaluation resulted in a new diagnosis and a change in Grace’s medications. The results were almost immediate. Teachers recognized a whole new Grace in their classrooms. She is calmer, more in control, and is learning to cope with distractions that previously triggered disruptive behavior.

Under Amanda’s guidance, Grace is being evaluated for an individualized education plan, which includes more mental health support. Amanda will be working with Grace over the summer to ensure continuity of care and continued progress as she prepares for fifth grade.

Jessica and Grace“The JFS KidSuccess program is really, really important, not only for Grace, but for the other children at her school,” relates Jessica. “To get quality mental health services at school is huge. Kids are getting access to services that they wouldn’t get otherwise. Many of these kids can’t afford it, nor do they have the transportation to get to a therapist. When a counselor is available at school, children are getting the help right when they need it. It’s been a game-changer for Grace and for our family.”