FONTANA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Fontana USD extends its mental health support team with Care Solace
Students’ mental health is a critical factor in their success. Yet, many schools struggle to connect students with the counseling they need — and the pandemic has only made this problem worse.
It’s a serious challenge for school systems nationwide. But the Fontana Unified School District in southern California has found a solution.
By partnering with Care Solace, Fontana USD has extended the reach of its counseling team, helping students quickly connect to community-based mental health providers. Site counselors and other mental health professionals can easily track the status of all referrals, giving them peace of mind that students won’t fall through the cracks.
Meeting all students’ mental health needs is a key challenge
Students’ social and emotional well-being is extremely important to Fontana USD teachers and administrators. They know the vital link that exists between emotional health and one’s ability to learn. “A child is not going to be successful academically if he or she is not feeling whole socially and emotionally,” says Ashley Baker, a school counselor at Southridge Tech Middle School.
Fontana USD has created an extensive social and emotional support system for students. A Multi-Tiered System of Supports Department includes a Social Emotional Supports unit, and there are school counselors at every level of instruction. Anyone can refer a child to a school counselor if it’s appropriate, and counselors can refer students to outside professionals if they need further mental health support.
Fontana has eight therapists-in-training who are working toward their master’s degree in family therapy and are doing their practicum within the district by providing one-on-one therapy to students. The district also has a partnership with a county agency to provide therapy services to students as required.
But even with these resources in place, the district had a hard time meeting the mental health needs of all 36,000 students. A typical high school counselor might be responsible for more than 400 students. At the elementary school level, that number can exceed 1,200 students.
“A school counselor’s goal is to get students back to normalcy, so they can focus in the classroom. But it’s very hard to do effective case management with up to 400 students,” says Rosalie Salazar, a counselor at A.B. Miller High School. “Before we could even follow up on one student, we’d have five more crises coming our way.”
This challenge isn’t unique to Fontana USD. In fact, it’s quite common in K-12 school systems nationwide. Before the pandemic emerged, as many as 60 percent of students with a mental health problem weren’t getting the treatment they needed, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
The pandemic has only heightened the problem, as surveys indicate that more students than ever before are feeling stressed out, anxious, or depressed. “We have definitely seen an increase in the number of students who have needed to be referred on a monthly basis,” says Social Emotional Support Specialist Elizabeth Romanio. “Student depression is through the roof, along with anxiety and trauma.”
Enter Care Solace
Although school counselors can refer students to a mental health professional for additional support, there’s no guarantee that parents will act on the referral; even if they do, they may become frustrated by obstacles such as long wait times, language barriers, navigating insurance, etc. and give up.. Compounding this,, counselors and other mental health support specialists are often too busy to follow up and make sure the handoff was successful.
Care Solace can help alleviate this strain on understaffed and overburdened school systems. Care Solace provides a 24-7 concierge service that eases the burden of coordinating mental health care for students. The Care Concierge team does the work of appropriately matching students with a mental health professional and ensuring follow-through to make sure students get the support they need to be successful.
“Before, I had too much on my plate to be able to provide the follow-up and the communication to know whether students were linked with a mental health provider,” Romanio says. “Did they fall through the cracks? What did parents say? Care Solace is able to provide that communication for us and address the high need that we have.”
Care Solace specializes in helping families with all types of insurance – private, Medicaid, and those who are uninsured. In Fontana USD’s case, if students are covered under a private insurance plan, counselors now use Care Solace to refer them to a mental health provider. If students are covered under Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid plan), counselors will refer them to the county-contracted agency.
With Care Solace, not only does the company do the legwork to make sure each child is successfully connected with a mental health professional, but Care Loop, a proprietary, easy-to-use dashboard gives school counselors immediate insight into the status of each referral.
The Care Loop dashboard “is a game changer,” Romanio says. “We’re able to get updates and feedback in real time.”
The result: Better follow-through and accountability
Since they began using Care Solace, Fontana USD counselors and administrators have seen an increase in the number of parents who are following through on mental health referrals.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that parents are much more open to starting that process now that we have Care Solace,” Baker says. “Before, parents might say, ‘OK, I’ll look into it,’ but then they might get busy and fail to call and schedule an appointment.”
With Care Solace, the district now has an easy way to ensure accountability that it didn’t have before. “It really doesn’t give parents an out,” Baker adds. “They’re seeing so many texts and emails and phone calls from Care Solace to remind them to schedule an appointment. That accountability factor is huge.”
Using the dashboard, Baker can see instantly which parents haven’t taken that next step yet — and she can reach out herself to gently remind them if necessary.
An internal poll of Fontana USD counselors and other mental health support staff found that over 93 percent believe that utilizing Care Solace saves time and adds value. Ninety-seven percent would refer Care Solace to friends or family.
“To me, that’s the most important part,” Baker says. “I’m not just passing along those resources and calling it a day. Care Solace is ensuring that students are actually receiving high-quality mental health services that are going to help them be successful in the future.”
Care Solace: The missing link
With Care Solace, not only is the hand-off process simple, but counselors can rest assured that students will actually benefit from a mental health referral.
“We were relieved to have something that did that kind of follow-up for us,” Salazar says. “Once we found out how many phone calls Care Solace makes to ensure that students get the help they need, it was like a load of bricks taken off of our shoulders. That was a missing piece for us before, simply because our district is so large.”
“My caseload is over 1,200 students,” says Natasha Hillenburg, a counselor for two Fontana elementary schools. “I can’t help everybody by myself. I just can’t. I love that I now have something that literally takes me seconds to do, and I can go on at any time and check on my kiddos. It literally makes my life so much easier.”