Kaniksu Health Services programs address community needs

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As any classroom teacher or parent knows, a child’s emotional state can have a profound impact on his or her ability to learn. Emotional issues often lead to problem behaviors limiting their ability to function satisfactorily and succeed at school. And when a child expresses extra challenging behaviors, teachers and parents need extra support. So what can we do to ensure a child’s success?

Providing school-based behavioral support is a positive way of addressing issues as opposed to sending students’ home, or following disruptive behavior with a suspension. Now in its sixth year, the Kaniksu Health Services (KHS) school-based behavioral health program, which has provided vital support to the Lake Pend Oreille School District (LPOSD), is expanding to the Boundary County School District, and will be led by Robb Rossi, LCSW. Robb’s approach to working with clients is solution focused. He frequently utilizes DBT skills, mindfulness trainings and creative interventions in expression such as dramatic arts, drawing, and role playing to reach students.

The program, with its emphasis on the elementary and secondary school levels, has had overwhelmingly good response from LPOSD school staff, students and parents. Because clinicians are onsite with the children, they can spend one-on-one time with the students over the course of a school year building relationships as well as offering additional classroom and school interventions that increase the effectiveness of the services offered. The overall goal is to provide the tools for maximum success at school and in life. Tools that will teach students to improve work habits, increase their desire to be at school, and the learn skills to make new friends. Additionally, the program aims to enhance their social and emotional learning, ensuring they gain the tools to successfully communicate, collaborate and self-regulate.

In addition to school counselors, the team of Kaniksu counselors integrated into school services is a plus for the early identification and treatment of issues. National studies of similar programs across the nation, compiled in 2013 by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, show improved academic achievement and improvements in related behaviors known to influence academic success. These improved academic achievements were demonstrated by increases in school grades, standardized test scores, grade point averages, and teacher-rated academic competence. Enhancement in related areas also included increased on-task learning behavior, better time management, strengthened goal setting and problem solving skills, and decreased rates of absenteeism and suspensions.

The program, which is voluntary, confidential and compliments services the schools already have in place, operates in close collaboration with parents, teachers, and support staff to provide tools to help improve wellness of the students. It also gives easier access to key caretakers in the family and at school. For example, KHS staff can give teachers classroom-based training in conflict resolution and strategies for disruptive behavior.

Serving children aged four to eighteen, and grades pre-K through 12th grade, the program is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of Kaniksu counselors. Services include classroom lessons that are based on district curriculum and which address such issues as bullying, social skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, physical safety, assertiveness, and empathy building; small group sessions which address the same topics; and individual sessions which allow a more in-depth approach to issues. All services involve the active and ongoing participation, and approval, of the students’ parents.

What distinguishes the KHS school-based wellness program from what is commonly used in many schools today? Whether it is a minor emotional disturbance that requires basic support or a far more complicated issue mandating a more intensive intervention, a comprehensive school-based approach enables a full range of options to each school. Appropriate levels of care can then be structured based on the severity of issues. Team members from KHS can be activated when more intensive services are needed, such as issues of bullying. They can also provide routine wellness, education, and prevention programs. Both school districts benefit from teaming with KHS counselors who have unique competencies and strengths. Additionally, services are available to students year-round, beyond the academic school year and during breaks when support can be limited. Community mental health clinicians, unlike their school counterparts, can see students even if they are suspended, not attending school, in detention, or in the hospital, supporting them through after hours through offsite services.

“Partnering with Kaniksu Health Services has allowed us to support so many more students and their families,” states Shawn Woodward, Superintendent, Lake Pend Oreille School District. “The support is much more accessible for all of our students and families when services can be provided at our school sites. We look forward to expanding on our partnership this school year and will be able to provide even more support to our families in need.”

Most children are referred for services by school staff, but children and families can seek services directly. KHS counselors provide regular education and outreach to families and school staff, helping caretakers to identify children who may need services, and are active members of the school-child study teams that coordinate all special services for children.

It is important to note that school administrators, teachers, and support staff are the foot soldiers of the program and, through their active collaboration with KHS, are the “eyes and ears” providing early detection. Through frequent collaboration and interaction with KHS, school staff members become more adept at recognizing early warning signs and distinguishing nuanced behaviors. They even serve as wellness ambassadors of sorts, bringing much needed approachability and accessibility to the various services that might be available to students.

Being an adolescent comes with many challenges and difficulties. But there is hope. Studies show that students who participate in comprehensive and collaborative school-based wellness programs have significantly less disciplinary issues, enjoy better health and, not surprisingly, perform better in school.

ABOUT KANIKSU HEALTH SERVICES

Kaniksu Health Services is a non-profit, Federally Qualified Community Health Center that provides high quality, comprehensive and affordable medical, pediatric, dental, behavioral health and veteran care. Clinics located in Bonner or Boundary counties: Kaniksu Bonners Ferry, Kaniksu Ponderay, Kaniksu Priest River, Kaniksu Sandpoint Pediatrics, and Sandpoint Veterans Clinic.

Our goal is to help you and the people you love most stay healthy or return to good health. Since our first family health center opened in 2002, Kaniksu Health Services has provided our patients with timely, affordable and quality care; because to us, they are not just people in a waiting room. They are part of our family.

We accept most insurance including Medicaid and Medicare. A Sliding Discount Program is available for those meeting income guidelines.

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