In honor of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the September issue of School Business Affairs focuses on mental health support. Tom Strasburger and Paul Daniels, the Director of Secondary Curriculum at Milford Exempted Village Schools in Milford, OH authored an article titled “Supporting More than the Academics: The Age of Mental Health Support.” The article outlines Milford’s multi-tiered approach to suicide prevention, which includes working with mental health professionals and local agencies, implementing peer guidance techniques, and partnering with PublicSchoolWORKS. Below is a summary of this article.
A few issues moved Milford Exempted Village Schools to become extremely focused on creating a comprehensive mental health support system for its students. First, in the last two years the Hamilton County, Ohio region had experienced child suicides in the double digits. Second, there was a growing number of students in the district who were dealing with trauma or exhibiting mental health needs. The following recommendations can help other school districts implement a comprehensive mental health program.
Hire a Full-Time Mental Health Specialist
In addition to its school counselors and psychologists, Milford employs a full-time mental health specialist to help support students’ needs. He has vast experience, including being a member of the Clermont County Mobile Crisis Team. While the Director of Student Services and her team of school counselors and psychologists oversee and conduct therapy services for students with IEPs, the mental health specialist adds an additional layer of support for students who may not formally qualify for IEP therapy services, but who still show signs of needing mental health intervention. Essentially, he serves as the mental health triage for the district. This includes running mental health screeners and referring students for the car and guidance they need.
Partner with Local Resources
Milford also forged partnerships with two local organizations – Clermont County Child Focus and the Children’s Home of Cincinnati. Child Focus is primarily utilized for case management and prevention grades K -12. It is funded through the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board. The Children’s Home of Cincinnati offers a half-day program for students with extreme therapeutic needs. The program provides high-quality therapists at school so students can attend regularly scheduled classes the other half of the day.
Institute a Suicide Prevention Program
Milford also works with a Cincinnati-based organization called Grant Us Hope, a nonprofit created to “transform the conversation on suicide prevention and bridge local service gaps through collaborative, evidence-based research, education and programs.” To help meet this mission, Grant Us Hope partnered with Hope4Utah to bring the Hope Squad program to the Greater Cincinnati region. The Hope Squad is a school-based peer-to-peer suicide prevention program equipping and empowering students to recognize and report youth in distress.
Hope Squad members are students nominated by their peers to participate in the training program, which is centered on a technique called “question, persuade and refer” or QPR. Students are trained to follow three steps: (1) question their peer’s desire or intent regarding suicide, (2) persuade him or her to seek and accept help, and (3) refer him or her to appropriate resources. While Hope Squad members are trained to help their peers seek help, they are peer advocates, not counselors. When a Hope Squad member encounters a peer in trouble, he or she immediately debriefs the mental health care specialist so he can immediately intervene.
Milford Schools piloted phase-one this year, which consists of training teachers to onboard students, and will begin implementing the program in September.
Keep Thorough Records of Reports
Maintaining thorough records of student behavior is crucial so the district’s mental health team can help identify students who may need support. Milford provides students, staff, and families with access to PublicSchoolWORKS’ anonymous reporting systems to report incidents of bullying and other student safety concerns, such as self-harm, abuse, or thoughts of suicide. Once a report is filed via phone or online, PublicSchoolWORKS automatically emails key administrators – or calls them if there is imminent danger – so they can intervene quickly. This automation ensures reports are investigated immediately and that students do not fall through the cracks.
By using a combination of professionals and local agencies, peer guidance, and technology, Milford created a program that helps students know their voices are heard and they can seek help. To read the article about Milford’s suicide prevention program in its entirety, check out the September 2018 issue of School Business Affairs.