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Providing Access to Healing
My name is Allie and I’m 8 years old, but I’ll be 9 soon. I just came to this school this year because my dad died and my mom had to move. I miss him a lot, and I miss my friends, and I miss my old house.  Sometimes I just start to cry at school even when I try hard not to.  The other kids have been kind of mean to me and nobody wants to be my friend.  I think sometimes that I just want to be with my dad.

My mom and the school counselor want me to talk to another counselor that comes to my school. I saw her once, and she smiles a lot. I hope I like her because I really need a friend here.

This lady is called PATH. I think a path is a little road that takes you where you want to go.  I’m glad, because I want things to be different.  She’s helping me learn how to make new friends.  I never had to do that before because I never had to move before.  I talk to her about my dad.  She says it’s OK that I miss him, but she’s helping me to not be so sad all the time.  Sometimes I cry when I talk to her, but I don’t cry in my classroom anymore.

The Need

Students today are faced with many hurdles that can impact their mental health. Grief, struggling to fit in at school, and difficulties at home are just a few examples of times students may need coping skills. In fact, 1 in 5 students in the U.S. show signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in any given year and nearly 80% of children in need of mental health services won’t receive them. Research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Mental health can be impacted by genetic make-up, as well as environment.

Accessing care can have obstacles: financial burdens, transportation to/from an appointment, and missing school (and work for the parent) to attend an appointment.

The Solution
Recognizing the need, Sioux Empire United Way has formed PATH, which brings professional mental health counseling services from Lutheran Social Services directly to students at their school. Students can be referred to the program by their school counselor, teacher, parent, or school administrator. Parents participate in the initial intake session which includes written consent, available insurance information, and a discussion about their child’s needs and physical and mental health history.

PATH provides confidential, individual counseling sessions at the school for kindergarten through 12th grade students. Counseling sessions are held in a private room, designated by that school. Every effort is made to have as minimal impact as possible on the student’s daily routine. Counselors use accepted therapy practices that are appropriate for the student’s age and challenges. A counseling session could include talking, art, games, movement, toys, or music as therapy tools.

PATH is funded through a combination of sources including Sioux Empire United Way, insurance, and a sliding fee scale for service. No student is turned away from the program due to lack of financial means.

PATH was piloted in 2016 in the Harrisburg School District, serving 50 students with more than 800 counseling sessions.  The pilot is expanding to Canton, Dell Rapids, Sioux Falls, and Tea Area School Districts in 2017. A successful 2018 Campaign will support an estimated 263 students in these 5 school districts.

Much like physical wellness, mental health is best maintained with early diagnosis and treatment. The goal of PATH is to create easier access to mental health care and through that care to provide students and their support system with the tools and resources needed to maintain their mental health in the future.

Learn about Allie, Becca, and Jake.

The Update
After a succesful 2018 Campaign, PATH started the expansion of the program to additional schools and students in the spring of 2018. In addition to this initial expansion, Sioux Empire United Way's Board of Directors approved additional funding for 2018-2019 school year. Click here to learn more.