Education

District Officials to Improve Mental Health Services in Fair Lawn Schools

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FAIR LAWN - It was a move that brought a tear to the eye of a mother with a special needs son.

On Aug. 21, the Fair Lawn Board of Education approved a professional services agreement with CarePlus NJ to provide specialized therapeutic mental health services to certain district pupils for the upcoming academic year.

According to the resolution, the district will pay $392,000 for four, full-time therapists who will provide 40 weeks of behavioral health care and support services.

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“We’ve moved from the traditional use of administrators and guidance counselors to supports kids to bring in mental health professionals,” said Interim Superintendent Ernest Palestis. “That is something that I think Fair Lawn will be proud of next year… and into the future.”

Under the contract, mental health professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists, will work with the schools’ guidance counselors, administrators and teachers to identify students through a referral process to meet student needs in their home school.

The goal, said Palestis, is to reduce the number of students referred to outside agencies for mental health issues. According to a handout distributed to attendees, the goal of the initiative is “to increase the number of individual, group and family counseling sessions for students identified by the school district with mental health concerns by 10 percent as compared to the 2016-17 school year.”

School psychologists, counselors and clinicians will conduct counseling sessions and give feedback to the students’ teachers.

Teachers will be trained to recognize what Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Nick Norcia called “triggers” of possible mental health issues in students, including dipping grades and lateness, things, he said, “we take for granted every day and could be a sign of something bigger.”

“This is the ultimate way to protect kids,” said Palestis. “We need students in the building who feel confident about themselves who have good self-esteem, who know it’s OK to look to another adult for help.”

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