Behavioral Healthcare Business Resources
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Strategies for Successful Collaborations with Schools

Schools are a primary site for the identification of behavioral health needs of children. Referrals are usually directed to student support personnel at the school including counselors, social workers, and psychologists. However, national trends report understaffing of student support personnel and increasing student caseloads. This may result in student needs not being met or addressed at all. 

Collaborations with behavioral health community providers are vital for schools to fully meet the needs of all students. Additionally, providers are positioned to offer professional development and training opportunities for staff to educate them about student mental health. These strategies can help your practice optimize collaborations and partnerships with schools.

Tip #1 - Ensure that your practice is fully committed to meeting the diverse needs of the student population at the school. Conduct research on the school and demographics prior to approaching the school about a partnership, so that you can offer meaningful support.  Be prepared to have interpreting and translation services available for students and ensure that staff are knowledgeable about cultural needs of students.

Tip #2 - Identify the staff member at the school responsible for overseeing contracts or partnership arrangements with behavioral healthcare providers. Some schools or districts require providers to bid for contracts in order to serve as the behavioral healthcare provider at the school.  Schools or districts may also require providers to be vetted prior to receiving access to a school. Maintain constant communication with this staff member and respond timely to all requests for information.

Tip #3 - Be prepared to provide pro bono or sliding scale services. Not every child referred for services will have access to medical insurance or have the means to pay for necessary services. Providers are encouraged to develop pro-bono and sliding scale policies and procedures prior to collaborating with schools. Determine eligibility criteria for these services and ensure that you have it clearly written in policies. You can also help eligible children access Medicaid benefits, and thereby bill through Medicaid for services rendered.

Tip #4 - Develop clear communication protocols for parents or legal guardians. Ensure that consent for services is obtained prior to delivery of services. Also, determine how you will elicit feedback from parents/legal guardians during treatment to support optimal outcomes.

About the Author: Sonyia Richardson, MSW, LCSW, is a Clinical Assistant Professor and BSW Program Director in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is also co-owner of Another Level Counseling and Consultation, a Charlotte based behavioral health agency providing services for over 11 years.

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