Oesterlen helping dozens of Springfield students after 2-year COVID break

Mental health counseling: ‘There is a great need for this type of support,’ Osterlen leader says.

Oesterlen Services for Youth has resumed serving students in the Springfield City School District after a two-year break during the coronavirus pandemic.

Oesterlen offers mental health counseling services to students from the three middle schools, Schaefer, Roosevelt and Hayward, as well as Simon Kenton Elementary, which is important to help reduce barriers to treatment.

At least 40 students currently receive services, said Holly Brennan, development and marketing at Oesterlen.

“Schools offer a distinct advantage for identifying, preventing and intervening in mental health problems among youth since they are already spending much of their productive time in educational settings,” she said. “The immediate result is that Oesterlen is making mental health counseling more readily available to students.”

Students who are dealing with trauma, stress, emotional or behavioral issues such as aggression, or struggling with schoolwork, are screened by their school and referred to Oesterlen. Counselors then do an assessment for each child and develop an individualized treatment plan “to better equip youth with the skills needed to navigate interpersonal interactions leading to improved performance in both home and school setting.”

“There is a great need for this type of support, and partnering with Oesterlen provides continuity of care during winter, spring and summer breaks,” Brennan said.

Martin Johnson, district coordinator of Psychological & Mental Health Services at Springfield schools, said the partnership has been invaluable.

“Oesterlen’s presence in our schools not only allows for increasing access to mental health care for our students that may not have been previously available, but also benefits them by increasing their engagement in learning and helping them to gain a better sense of connectivity and belonging at school,” he said.

In the U.S., an estimated one out of every six children aged six to 17 are affected with a mental health disorder each year, and the onset of these conditions normally happen before the age of 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In many cases, children with mental health issues are undiagnosed, untreated or inadequately treated, which can have a detrimental effect on their education development.

Oesterlen has had a school-based mental health services contract with the district since August 2018, which includes both group and one-on-one therapy. Therapists were in the school or working with students virtually until June 2020, when there was a break with no counselors in the schools until August 2022 when they returned.

The break was mainly due to the impact of COVID-19 because the pandemic changed how they served individuals and staffing shortages impacted the ability to provide therapists in schools, Brennan said.

Jason Griffith, mental health counselor for Oesterlen, works to provide a safe place for students to open up and share what’s going on in their lives because some people “do not understand what words do to kids.”

“Some kids do not come from the best home environments, and the most empowering words they hear come from the schools. About 99.9% of what they hear from teachers is positive, and that puts a smile on their faces. Kids need to be applauded more for their successes rather than having their failures highlighted. They need more pats on the back,” he said.

Griffith said he believes students will be more successful in school if they receive positive feedback, so he uses techniques to empower and motivate them to want to achieve more.

Oesterlen’s Brooker Community Counseling Center, which has provided outpatient counseling for youth and adults for over 50 years, offers a wide range of expertise in mental health issues and trauma-informed treatment.

Oesterlen services include residential mental health treatment, foster care, outpatient counseling, in-home programs and in-school programs. For more information, call 937-399-6101 or visit www.oesterlen.org.

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