The Independence Blue Cross Foundation (Foundation) announces funding for a multi-year initiative to provide access to mental health care for every student at Girard College. The integrated care model combines telehealth services from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) with school-based support for youth impacted by trauma.
“The impact of mental health on student achievement is a global issue that needs to be addressed,” said Heather Wathington, Ph.D., president of Girard College. “We know that approximately 80 percent of Girard students have had some type of traumatic childhood experience, such as depression, family or community violence, substance abuse, family incarceration, homelessness, or food insecurity. Our goal in partnering with Children’s Hospital is to provide the necessary intervention and support for our students and equip them with the skills needed to negotiate and overcome obstacles to learning and growth.”
The collaboration with Girard College’s Student Achievement Team and CHOP’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Science will provide training to teachers, administrators, and school counselors on screening and referral of all students with undiagnosed mental health conditions (anxiety, trauma, depression, substance use disorder, suicide) or physical health needs.
“We’re excited to bring together two world-class organizations in Girard College and CHOP in a unique project that aims to increase access and health equity for our most vulnerable children and families,” said Stephen P. Fera, executive vice president of Public Affairs at Independence Blue Cross. “For many young people, mental health issues that first arise in childhood last into adulthood. But research shows that intervening early — when the signs of risk first emerge — can reduce both the likelihood and severity of mental health disorders over the long term.”
Girard College is an independent five-day boarding school in Philadelphia for approximately 300 academically focused students, grades 1-12, from families with limited financial resources, each headed by a single parent or guardian. All Girard students receive need-based full scholarships; the student population is over 80 percent African American.
Urgent time to help children
Nationwide, half of children with a mental health condition in the United States go without treatment, according to Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics study published in 2019. Additionally, youth from underserved communities are less likely to receive mental health care services compared to white children, according to an Institute of Medicine Report.
“There has never been a more urgent time to address children’s mental health,” said Tami Benton, MD, Chief of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP. “Kids should be able to get their healthcare all in one place — well care, sick visits and behavioral health. We’re creating models and leveraging technology through telehealth to make that happen.”
Children were at risk for mental health issues long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, However, the pandemic amplified the urgent need for care as young people are faced with additional issues such as school closures, family stress, social isolation, and economic challenges.
The Independence Blue Cross Foundation
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation (Foundation) is a private, corporate charitable foundation that was established in 2011 with a mission to lead sustainable solutions that improve the health and well-being of the community. The Foundation has awarded more than $48M in grants to nonprofits and academic institutions in the southeastern Pennsylvania region whose programs and services address access to care, the health care workforce, and nonprofit sustainability.