News conference at Calumet County Park announcing new mental health screening and counseling initiative.
By Jane Frantz, Development & Communications Director, Samaritan Counseling Center
A coalition of five Calumet County school districts will begin to offer school-based mental health screening and counseling services this spring thanks to a $231,544 grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership within the Community Foundation supported by the U.S. Venture Fund, the J.J. Keller Foundation, and other community partners. The implementation of the program in the Chilton School District was also be supported by a $7,500 grant from the Chilton Area Community Foundation, our affiliate partner, and a $2,500 grant from the Ruth Bolz Memorial Fund, a fund within the Chilton Foundation. These grants will fund THRIVE Calumet, a collaboration to provide on-site mental health services in Brillion, Chilton, Hilbert, New Holstein, and Stockbridge school districts in partnership with Samaritan Counseling Center of the Fox Valley.
“THRIVE Calumet will build on services currently offered through Calumet Medical Center in Chilton and Calumet County,” says Elizabeth Langteau, Cooperative Education Service Agency 6 (CESA 6), and co-director of Allies in Mental Health Education. CESAs in Wisconsin make it possible for schools, regardless of size, to share resources and extend educational opportunities to all children throughout the state. Langteau helped bring together district and community leaders in 2020 to form THRIVE Calumet to address unmet needs through assessments and community conversation.
In this pilot phase, THRIVE Calumet will bring Samaritan’s wellness screening to one grade in each district. A total of 480 students will participate in screening this spring. Students complete a confidential online questionnaire that asks data-driven, evidence-based questions about their mental health. If the screening identifies a mental health concern, the student will have a confidential follow-up conversation with a screening staff member and parents/guardians can receive a referral to an area mental health provider. For younger children, the screening is given to parents/guardians who are asked questions about their children’s behaviors and emotions.
The Calumet County program is the first of its kind for Samaritan Counseling Center because it goes beyond making referrals after the screenings to also providing mental health services in the communities it serves. Students and families can also access clinical services directly, without going through the screening process. All screening information is kept confidential; only overall statistics on program participation are shared with school staff.
The most recent Calumet County Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019 reported over half (53%) of students responded “yes” to any one of six mental health questions about whether in the past year they were so sad or hopeless that they stopped their usual activities or they seriously considered, planned, or attempted suicide. “Emerging research suggests the effects of the pandemic on mental health will have long-reaching implications, particularly for youth with existing mental illness,” says Jen Parsons, Connected Community wellness screen program director at Samaritan. “Marijuana use, depression, and suicide were growing issues even before the pandemic, and now we are very concerned about the prolonged social isolation and trauma young people are experiencing.”
Early intervention helps with greater school readiness, academic success, less grade retention or special education, and reduced welfare dependency. “If mental illness is untreated, children can experience crippling long-lasting effects like dropping out of school, incarceration, teen pregnancy, poor employment opportunities, poverty, and future dependence on assistance programs,” Parsons says. “School-based programs are proven to be cost-effective and very good at removing barriers to care.”
Jennifer Konen, student support specialist and mental health coordinator for the Hilbert School District, says she rejoiced when she heard about the grant. “This does wonders to remove barriers to mental health care for our students and their families. They no longer have to worry about transportation, financial, or language barriers, or missing work to get to their appointments.”
Doug Olig, principal of New Holstein High School, acknowledged the special role of schools as community centers in small, close-knit communities. “When problems arise, people look to us help solve them. That’s what this program does,” he says. “THRIVE will also help us educate community members about the importance of mental health, and that there is no shame in asking for help.”
Samaritan Counseling Center will provide on-site and/or virtual mental health, substance abuse, and bilingual counseling (Spanish and English) services to students, families, and staff, regardless of their ability to pay. In the future, the coalition plans to offer mental health services to any member of the community from its base within the schools. These services will complement those provided by Calumet Medical Center and the Calumet County Behavioral Health Unit.
“We aspire to further cultivate a culture of mental health in Calumet County,” says Dr. Tracy Siebers, Samaritan Counseling Center clinical director. “The funding from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership allows us to have these conversations and directly follow up with assessments and mental health services that families need and deserve. This collaboration shows what can happen when people bring their individual gifts together so entire communities can thrive.”
Samaritan’s mission is to connect mind, body, and spirit so individuals, families, organizations, and communities thrive. They have been providing behavioral health services in the Fox Valley for over 50 years. Samaritan established the wellness screen program for school-aged young people in 2012 after a series of tragic youth suicides in the Fox Cities. Wellness screen teams currently work in 10 Northeast Wisconsin school districts at 56 sites.
The Basic Needs Giving Partnership within the Community Foundation is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, the J.J. Keller Foundation, Inc., and other community partners. Learn more here.