Gazette opinion: Expand team effort to help more troubled Billings students

2014-03-04T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Expand team effort to help more troubled Billings studentsGazette opinion The Billings Gazette
March 04, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Helping seriously emotionally disturbed children is a team effort at Lockwood Schools. In fact, it’s an effort with five Comprehensive School and Community Treatment teams caring for struggling students in grades K-8.

“It’s a great safety net for our kids,” said Lockwood Schools Superintendent Tobin Novasio. “It allows our teachers to focus more on the academics while the kids are getting their mental health problems treated with CSCT.”

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch provides the licensed therapists and trained mental health specialists who work right in the school with students, teachers and parents. The program is voluntary and children participate with parents’ permission. Healthy Montana Kids and Medicaid cover CSCT for eligible children; others may be covered by private insurance or negotiate payment with YBGR. The program costs Lockwood Schools nothing except office space.

Safety net for kids

The CSCT program started in Lockwood Schools several years ago. It serves kids during the school year and through the summer with each team treating about a dozen students.

“We actually probably could add another team; we’ve talked about that,” Novasio said. “It’s definitely an extra safety net for those kids.”

The state requires CSCT teams to meet strict requirements for staff training and requires them to use practices that have been researched and proven effective with SED children, according to Zoe Barnard, chief of the state Children's Mental Health Bureau in Helena.

Dropout prevention

"SED students drop out at twice the rate of other kids, so keeping even a small percentage of them in school can make a big difference," Barnard said.

YBGR is one of about a dozen mental health providers staffing CSCT in Montana schools. More than 350 Montana public schools have CSCT teams. Most large school districts have teams in every school, serving students K-12.

However, Billings Public Schools has not yet made this important service available in all schools. Billings has established teams in 10 of 22 elementary schools and three of four middle schools, and some schools have two teams. But no CSCT is available in any of the high schools.

At Ponderosa Elementary, one of the Billings schools that piloted the program in this district four years ago, Principal Lori Booke told a reporter that CSCT has been successful.

“They can do a much deeper level of therapy than my school counselor,” Booke said.

Addressing children's needs early and effectively gives them the best chance for success in school and in life — and it provides the best value for dollars spent.

As Booke said: “The younger that kids get connected, the better off they’re going to be.”

Let's give all our students the benefit of getting help without leaving home or school. Let's give them the best chance of staying in school and defying the odds on SED kids dropping out.

Back in December, a Gazette opinion urged Billings Public School leaders to make CSCT available in all our schools. We repeat that call. Billings schools should have a goal of making this important care available to seriously emotionally disturbed children and teens at every school because students with these problems are in every one of our schools. The 2014-2015 school year should start with these dropout prevention teams in every Billings public school.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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