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The transition of some school-related mental health services from the city to a private nonprofit group has been slow, some principals say. But officials at the new provider, Juneau Youth Services, say the changeover was smooth and is nearly complete.
The city stopped providing most mental health services this fiscal year, and private nonprofits such as Juneau Youth Services have been picking up state grants to continue the services.
"I think they're getting much closer to where they need to be from even a month ago," said Ron DeLay, the Juneau School District director of student services. "They've been really doing everything they can to help the district run smoothly."
Juneau Youth Services already provided a therapy, counseling and academic program in nearly all of Juneau's public schools for 80 to 100 students. But the transition from city services has required JYS to hire more staff and change its Behavioral and Academic Success in Education, or BASE, program to meet more needs.
Juneau Youth Services has had to hire 2 1/2 clinicians people with at least a master's degree and 10 to 12 more counselors, officials said. The organization had a hard time filling the jobs at first, said John Heimbuch, JYS day treatment coordinator.
Through a program called Access, the city provided one-on-one and family counseling, and worked on behavior in the classroom, for children who were diagnosed as severely emotionally disturbed. City-funded contractors were assigned specific students. Access had about 40 students at last school year's end, mostly from the middle schools.
"The services at this point have not really gotten back to the point they were at the end of last year, when Access (a city-contracted program) was functioning," said Dave Newton, principal at Auke Bay Elementary School, which had two students in Access in recent years.
But Heimbuch said it was due to parents' requests that only about 20 of the Access students were brought into the BASE program. Other parents wanted to opt out in the summer and reconsider whether they would apply in the fall.
"Anybody that didn't roll over from Access into BASE was because the parents didn't want the services," Heimbuch said.
"Services are the same," he said. "We provide family support, individual and group therapy and intensive rehabilitation services, if needed. We all do the same service. The difference would be the infrastructure of how the program works."
Some BASE sites have students on waiting lists because its schoolrooms have limited space, Heimbuch said, but JYS tries to plug those children into outpatient services until space is available.
One difference between Access and JYS, said Clinical Director Richard Nault, "is we're a lot less likely to use one-on-one. We believe children learn best in groups and when staff is there when needed, but allows them to develop when it isn't needed."
Some parents had their children in intensive rehabilitation services for a year, but it would be rare for JYS to do that, Nault said.
Juneau Youth Services also recently received a state grant to provide one alcohol and drug counselor at Juneau-Douglas High School, a counselor to work with both middle schools, and one to work on an outpatient basis at JYS's Family Mental Health Center. They will start in the schools in November, DeLay said.
Each middle school used to have its own full-time counselor.
"It's a huge loss," said Les Morse, principal of Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, which has one regular counselor.
"One counselor for 690 students is tough. We feel like we aren't doing as much as we like to do with alcohol and drug education, prevention and interventions," he said.
A full-time alcohol and drug counselor could talk to students whenever they dropped in and would be available for crises such as intoxicated students, Morse said.
Juneau Youth Services also picked up a city-funded clinician position one day a week at the Juneau Teen Health Center at the Marie Drake building next to the high school.