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  • Writer's pictureSJCBHC Member

St. Johns County School District gets response unit to curb mental crises in schools

The St. Johns County School District has another tool at its disposal to confront mental health crises in schools.

Its Student Services Department is collaborating with St. Augustine Youth Services to provide a Mobile Crisis Response Team.

The service started last month through a grant secured by youth services from LSF Health Systems of Jacksonville.

This three-year grant provides three licensed mental health therapists who will assess at-risk, school-age students. It will specifically target those who have thoughts or behaviors of harming themselves or others.

“This is basically for students in behavioral health crisis,” said Laura Barkett, mental health counselor for the district. ”... We’re excited because it’s a way to get immediate response to them.”

Reducing the risk

The response unit is also another step before getting a deputy involved for a Baker Act.

“Having the school resource officers is wonderful, but they are not trained mental health professionals,” Barkett said.

Previously, if an assessment determined the student was in imminent danger of causing self-harm or harm to others, a Baker Act intervention would be initiated.

The staff member would then contact district administration and a resource deputy through the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

A Baker Act examination can last up to 72 hours after a student is deemed medically stable by a designated hospital or crisis stabilization unit.

According to youth services, the ultimate goal of the program will be to divert children from costly emergency services. It is also to establish more effective coordination of care that will serve the family beyond the initial crisis.

“This provides a licensed therapist on site and therefore de-escalating the crisis or need for a Baker Act,” Barkett said.

Divide and conquer

Barkett estimated in the previous week there were 30 calls made to the mobile crisis team, only five of which resulted in Baker Acts. She added this means there were 25 instances that were stopped from possibly being taken to the next level.

Guidance counselors and trained staff can still forego the mobile crisis unit option and call for a Baker Act if necessary.

Referral to the mobile crisis team can be made by designated school staff or youth resource officers in schools. The team can be contacted Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. via a hotline phone number provided to all schools.

The average response time is under 30 minutes.

Barkett said the district receives a report on every call made to the response unit. From there, they provide follow-up components and receive feedback from schools and parents.

The mobile crisis team consists of the three state-licensed therapists, a certified case manager and a state-licensed registered nurse.

The grant also incorporates a wrap-around model focused on family-centered behavioral health care.

A care coordinator will integrate all aspects of care and manage a network of providers to create a treatment plan.

Taking action

Several district-wide initiatives have been developed in recent years. These include a behavioral consortium, protocol changes and training of school-based staff to look for signs of students in need.

The mobile crisis team is the latest initiative to curb child psychiatric hospitalizations and mental health issues throughout the district.

Barkett said it isn’t just St. Johns County.

Part of the rise can be attributed to increased training to spot these problems.

There’s also stress from economic situations, foreclosures, trouble at home, relationships and testing to consider.

Since 1989, youth services has provided a therapeutic group residence for 6- to 18-year-old boys who have experienced abuse, emotional trauma or neglect.

Services include individual, group and family therapy as well as independent-living and social skills training.

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