The county school system has entered a partnership with the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, offering training for student peer counselors and home visits from counselors for students and families who need special help.
The cooperative effort, formalized last week, is an attempt to augment the counseling services for students already provided by school guidance counselors and pupil personnel workers, school officials say.
The partnership has three components: A Grassroots counselor
will be available two to three hours a week at a yet-to-be-chosen high school, providing a walk-in crisis counseling clinic. Middle school students will be trained in peer counseling by Grassroots staff, and Grassroots counselors will accompany pupil personnel workers on home visits to families needing special help.
The partnership arose out of Grassroots' decision to devote more time to the the needs of county youths. In addition to its crisis hot line, Grassroots runs the county's only homeless shelter.
"The board really wanted to refocus some of our energies on youth in Howard County," said executive director Andrea Ingram, the agency's executive director, noting that the center was created in 1970 as an alternative mental health resource for teens.
Grassroots is ready to begin providing counseling services immediately, Ms. Ingram said.
"It's a real big help because the services aren't costing the
families and students any additional money," said Peter Finck, the school systems's pupil personnel director.
The weekly walk-in crisis counseling clinic to be offered at a county high school will provide a resource for students who need to talk with someone immediately about a problem.
Although the service will only be available for two or three hours a week, "it's one more pair of ears and one more person who a student can come to," Mr. Finck says.
Typically, high school guidance counselors spend a great deal of their time dealing with educational issues such as college applications, entrance exams and school scheduling problems. Their workload leaves them little time to work with a student having a serious personal or family problem, Mr. Finck said.
"At best, a counselor can say, 'I can see you next Thursday for 20 minutes then six weeks later we'll talk again,' " Mr. Finck said. "That doesn't really do the trick."
The school system's pupil personnel workers, who work with students and families needing special attention, are also in short supply.Each worker is assigned to six or seven schools and tries to identify personal or family problems among students.
Under the partnership agreement, Grassroots counselors will accompany pupil personnel workers on home visits to families needing more intense services. If long-term help is needed to address the problem, the counselor will work with the family in their home or refer them to an appropriate agency.
To illustrate how the partnership will work, Mr. Finck cited a case pupil personnel workers identified last week involving a first-grader who wasn't showing up for school.
The young mother "didn't really know how to work with the youngster," he said.
Mr. Finck envisioned that in this case, a Grassroots counselor might work with the mother for six to eight weeks on parenting skills.
"Because of budget limits we can't do it all; we can't spend an entire week at one school or with one family," Mr. Finck said. "This is an add-on to the kind of services we provide ourselves and gives us additional ways to work with families."