Cassia Catterall Gillette News Record through Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE – Mental health problems – prevalent in Gillette – are also on the rise within schools, and more younger children have been referred for help this school year than their older peers.
From August through December 2022, 209 Campbell County elementary students were referred to a mental health counselor compared to the 181 high school students.
“It was quite surprising to us that we referred more elementary school students than middle school or high school kids,” said Kip Farnum, director of student support services for the school district.
Also striking were the data he received from students who were referred to grade level. Sixth graders had the highest number of students — 40 — followed by sophomores, freshmen, fourth graders, and second graders.
“This was a bit surprising to me at first,” he said. “You can see that we refer preschoolers, first graders, and second graders at almost the same level as many of our high school students. That’s disturbing. It’s pretty consistent across the board.”
People also read…
To cope with the overwhelming numbers, the district has partnered with five local agencies: The Kid Clinic, Behavioral Health Services, YES House, Free Indeed, and The Counseling Center.
“All of these agencies combined give us these different levels of intervention and seem to be working really well with our entire program right now,” Farnum said.
But even with more partners, the demand for counselors has not been met.
In December, Farnum said the waiting list for a counselor stood at 10. Now he is at 80.
He attributed some of that number to students waiting at the Kid Clinic instead of another agency because of the direct transportation from school to clinic.
“I don’t know if Mr. Chrans is here, but he’s our hero,” Farnum said of the director of transportation services. “He transports kids from school to the Kid Clinic and back and reduces our no-show rate to almost nothing. He transports just about every kid who has a mental health appointment, so we like transport.
During the first semester of the school year, approximately 60 students per week were brought to the Kid Clinic. The increased use of the clinic has not only been noticed by the school district.
“Last week the hospital even said to me, ‘Hey, would you guys be willing to do another Kid Clinic,'” Farnum said.
In August, the waiting time between a referral and a child’s first service was approximately 19 days. In November, that peaked at 63 days before falling to 46 in December.
About 80 students were discharged, while 180 remained in counseling and another 115 declined services or went to another agency.
A highlight of the conversation was about the drop in the number of students who have died by suicide in the past five years. Farnum said that while there were nine student deaths between 2013 and 2016, there has been a drop to one since 2017.
Farnum attributed the decline to Hope Squads, peer-nominated students looking for signs of misfortune in their classmates, and to additional staff training.
Hope Squads are now in 14 district schools, and all new district personnel were trained in suicide prevention in August. Nutrition, maintenance and transport are now being trained and two certified mental health first aid trainers trained 27 employees in February.