Outrage over high school clinics reveals deep divisions over mental health

When the superintendent introduces staff to Generations Family Health Center on the January evening, the nonprofit healthcare group that provides services to the school, viewers peek out of the zoom screen with happy smiles.

The plan was for a generation of licensed therapists to work in one place on the third floor of the school. Students may be referred by teachers or family members, or come in person, and therapy sessions will be scheduled during school hours. Therapists will bill insurance based on the sliding fee scale using federal funds if necessary, so there will be no costs for the school and little, if any, for families.

Board members then enter a cold room as soon as they start chilling with their questions. The smiles of the visitors faded.

Will they advise students on birth control or abortion? (They won’t give medical advice, but can discuss if it comes.) If kids are referred and they don’t want therapy, will they be forced to do it? (No.) Will the peers show the students to go for treatment, to face their ridicule and stigma? (Hopefully not.) Can they get therapy without their parents knowing?

Conceptually, yes, the answer was yes. By law, Connecticut physicians can provide six sessions of mental health treatment for minors in a narrow situation without parental consent – if the juvenile attempts treatment it is considered medically necessary and will prevent the juvenile from receiving it if parental notice is required.

This provision is rarely used; In a town near Putnam, which has run a school-based mental health clinic for nine years, treating hundreds of students, no child has been treated without parental permission, said Michael Morrill, a member of the Putnam school board.

But it was a major sticking point for Norm Ferron, one of the Killingley board members, who said the arrangement “would give a student much more access to counseling without parental approval, and I’m not really interested in that.”

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