WAMPSVILLE — CSEA members employed by the Madison County Department of Mental Health are helping fill a major community need – providing mental health services for students at schools across the county.
Teisha Cook, director of Community Mental Health Services at the Madison County Department of Mental Health, was a driving force behind placing mental health social workers in school districts throughout the county.
“We have four staff members in three different districts – Chittenango, Hamilton and Cazenovia – and more districts are now interested in signing on,” said Cook.
The agreement allows for the county’s Department of Mental Health to pay for the employees, but the school districts share the responsibilities by providing space and resources such as furniture and office supplies, as well as having school staff such as school counselors and teachers involved in planning.
“These are not school social workers, so they aren’t employees of the school district,” said Cook. “They won’t get pulled into other work in their schools. They are dedicated very intently to working with those children who have very specific mental health needs.”
Carlyne “Carly” Martin, a CSEA member and staff social worker at the Madison County Department of Mental Health, is filling one of the new positions. She is based at the Chittenango School District, where she provides mental health services to students.
Martin has worked at two of the district’s elementary schools since July 2022.
“I love coming to work every single day,” said Martin. “I come in and see however many students in sessions. If I walk into a classroom, I get at least five other kids who say, ‘do I get to see you? Are you coming to get me?’”
Filling a need
The process of having Madison County Department of Mental Health workers provide services at the schools started several years ago when county officials asked, “what does the community need to recover from COVID?”
School-based mental health services were quickly identified as such a need.
What ensued was a coalition between the county, the Chittenango, Hamilton and Cazenovia school districts, municipalities and community members to make this plan a reality.
“One of the biggest benefits of me being in the schools is that it provides direct access for students who need these services,” said Martin. “It removes barriers like transportation issues, where parents have to take time off from work to take their children for services, which means a lot less disruption for the children and their parents.”
Nearly 100 children in the Chittenango School District receive services through this arrangement.
All of the school sites must be officially licensed with the state Office of Mental Health, meaning they have to follow all regulations, are able to diagnose children and abide by treatment plans.
The presence of these new positions in the schools has benefited other CSEA members as well, including those who work for the Madison County Department of Social Services.
“A good number of transfers come from the Department of Social Services, where children may need additional support,” said Martin. “If I can start seeing that child immediately, it can be extremely beneficial. I see the children in the hallways and in their classrooms as I walk by and I get to engage them even if they don’t come to see me. It’s a real community and I love it.”
— Mathew L. Cantore