Community virtual resources assist students with behavioral health needs

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up to a healthcare article published on Oct. 29 about the 2023 Yampa Valley Behavioral Health Landscape Scan.

After 38 years as a school psychologist, including more than 14 years with the Moffat County School District, Teresa Laster is ready to retire.

In fact, Rust, 65, officially retired in June, but returned to work at Craig School for another 15 Because she doesn’t want the district’s 1,912 students to lack necessary supports for their mental and behavioral health and special education needs.

Rust gave the district three years’ notice of her expected retirement, and the position has been posted at least three times. However, Cuyler Meade, MCSD director of communications and grants, said the district has not attracted any viable candidates for the position, which requires at least a master’s degree in psychology.

The National Association of School Psychologists notes that school psychology has a critical shortage of practitioners, graduate education programs, and the faculty needed to train the workforce. The association recommends one school psychologist for every 500 students to provide comprehensive services, but estimates nationwide put the ratio at one counselor for 1,127 students and sometimes as many as 5,000.

Attracting and hiring school psychologists and social workers in rural Colorado is more difficult because the salaries for these positions are thousands of dollars less than in the Front Range, Rust said. The cost of housing in the resort and the start-stop nature of grant-funded social work positions also deter applicants.

Such gaps, opportunities and strengths in mental and behavioral health care supports are the focus of the recently completed 2023 Yampa Valley Behavioral Health Landscape Scan.The study was commissioned by the Craig-Schekman Institute Steamboat Springs Family Foundation and UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center Foundation, and coordinated by the nonprofit Northwest Colorado Health Partners.

“Landscape Scan” focuses on specific populations in the Valley, including youth and young adults, Moffat County’s LGBTQ+ community and adult men working in the Valley’s traditional economy, as well as Latino members of all three groups. The study delves deeper into the lived experiences and mental health needs of these categories.

“To date, we’ve really relied heavily on surveys, quantitative studies, data from the state and anecdotal information, but we’ve never really stopped to listen to what communities are experiencing in their own words,” the impact on Craig-Scheckman .

Organizers said in-depth research highlighted two common themes across the different groups: a general lack of openness and normalization about mental health, including stigma, and how income inequality creates severe life stress, contributes to mental health problems and limits the ability to seek formal Ability to help.

“Many individuals and organizations work tirelessly to support youth in the Yampa Valley, but their ability to reach all youth is limited by resources,” the 77-page horizontal scan shows. “Highlights include efforts by the Northwest Colorado Health Department to provide School-based mental health promotion, including youth resiliency training and youth partners who provide school-based mentors in select schools in Routt and Moffat counties.”

Stephanie Einfeld, CEO of Northwest Colorado Health Centers, said the nonprofit will use the landscape scan results to inform the agency’s 2024 strategic plan, noting that the agency’s youth resiliency program “is important for It is a promising approach for the youth of the valley”.

Similar to other rural school districts, Moffat relies on contract services delivered online and partnerships with area nonprofits and health care agencies to meet student needs. This year, the district contracted with Summit Psychological Assessment and Consulting in Colorado Springs, and one employee worked virtually from Boulder, Rust said. The district is also using virtual services to meet the needs of special education students, such as speech and occupational therapy.

“Virtual services are not ideal; it’s a fallback,” Meade said. “This is not something we want to do long-term.”

Meade said there are concerns that some children may be neglected when dependent students receive care outside of school.

“We’re going to miss the kids that we can serve in school buildings and, frankly, we need to be in school buildings to serve them because they may never be cared for,” Meade said. “Based on observations of our own students, We know there is a great need for mental and behavioral health supports.”

School psychologists say the district relies “heavily” on community-wide individualized services and support teams, made up of school, nonprofit and human service staff, who meet with eligible youth and their families where they can Benefit from comprehensive multi-agency services.

Rust’s job responsibilities are wide-ranging – family advocacy, collaboration with community partners, initial testing of special education students, training of academically focused school counselors and management of suicide, crisis and violence risk issues . Additionally, she holds a second job as a social-emotional therapist at Horizons Specialized Services.

“I keep doing this because I love kids,” Rust said.

If her wish is granted, Rust will retire and two school psychologists will be hired to help students in Moffat County Schools.

As part of a holistic behavioral health program, the Moffat County School District utilizes Second Step, which helps students develop social-emotional skills, and Kelso Select, which teaches children conflict management skills.
Moffat County School District/Photo provided

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