Stonington considering opening high school health clinic


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Stonington ― Superintendent Mary Anne Butler announced at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting that the district is investigating the possibility of partnering with Child and Family Agency to open a school based health clinic at the high school.

The school district would supply the space for the clinic and pay for other expenses, such as utilities, which are already included in the annual budget.

“There has long been a need to add an additional school-based health center at Stonington High School. We have one at the middle school. If you don’t have one at the high school, as the students progress to the high school, they lose that connection to those supportive services,” said Allison Blake, chief executive officer for Child and Family Agency.

CFA operates 13 school-based health centers in New London County, as well as a variety of other programs in southeastern Connecticut including child care centers, outpatient mental health services, home-based intervention services, and medical care.

Services provided by school-based health centers include mental health services provided by a licensed provider as well as medical care such as wellness exams, school and sports physicals and vaccinations provided by a pediatric and family nurse practitioner.

“The value of this is the interdisciplinary nature of the school-based health center, that you have medical professionals working side by side with mental health professionals to meet the needs of students. By doing that, it helps keep kids in school. It helps their school experience go better, maybe smoother, but it also is really contributing to their overall well being, and that’s what we want,” Blake explained.

The school system’s Director of Special Education, Allison Van Etten, said the district and CFA initially discussed the possibility of a clinic at the high school two years ago.

Due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and startup costs, CFA determined it did not have the funding to support a second clinic in Stonington at that time.

The potential for funding through the state Department of Public Health this legislative session has made the clinic a possibility again, and the district is currently gathering data to determine the level of need at the high school.

“We have been in touch with the legislative delegation and been talking with them about what we see as an unmet need, so they are advocating, through proposed legislation, to secure funding for us,” said Blake.

A fact sheet on the proposal provided by Child and Family Agency highlights the need at the high school, stating that 15 sophomores did not start school on time due to not receiving required annual physicals and 96 sophomores are overdue for annual physicals.

Additionally, school counselors currently spend 80% of their time addressing student mental health needs, compared to 40% prior to the pandemic.

Referrals for poor classroom and cafeteria behavior have almost doubled, from 14% during the 2021-22 school year to 27% currently, and chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10% or more of school days, is up to 36.8% as of the end of December.

Ideally, Blake hopes funding could be in place in time for the 2023-24 school year. She cautioned that, with the increased need for children’s physical and mental health services across the nation since the pandemic, there are many agencies seeking funding, and there are no guarantees that CFA will receive funding, but she is remaining optimistic.

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