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May Partner & Volunteer Highlight: Child and Family Behavioral Health Services

May Partner & Volunteer Highlight: Child and Family Behavioral Health Services

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is highlighting our partnership with the City of Alexandria’s Child and Family Behavioral Health Services (CFBHS) during Mental Health Awareness Month. As a part of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services, CFBHS provides school-based therapists at several division schools.

“If mental health services are provided within the schools, students can access it much better,” CFBHS Team Leader Dr. Kirimi Fuller said. “This increases the ability to have families come in.” According to Dr. Fuller, the need for mental health services has grown exponentially since the onset of COVID-19, and her team has seen the effects of what the federal government is calling a youth mental health crisis.

Dr. Fuller and School-Based Therapist Supervisor Lily Sutherland agree that the pandemic has impacted student’s mental health. Many students struggled with virtual learning and isolation. The transition back to in-person schooling has also been challenging. “In elementary schools, we saw significant difficulties with social skills because they missed such a gap during COVID-19,” Sutherland said. That is why, in working with students, Sutherland notes that “we use evidence-based interventions that are age appropriate and we are available to consult with teachers and other school professionals.”

CFBHS therapists meet with students for a variety of reasons related to mental health and wellness. Dr. Fuller explained that some students are “incredibly anxious, they have social anxiety, they’ve got fears about school, so they’re avoiding it, they have panic attacks.” The feelings these students are experiencing can affect their ability to learn. It can lead to truancy or self-medication, which can transform into substance use problems. Early intervention is of the utmost importance. “We want to be proactive, rather than reactive,” Dr. Fuller said. She believes that “substance use is making the landscape of mental health for youth in Alexandria very challenging.” Where a mental health issue may have already existed, substance use exacerbates it.

Another obstacle that therapists must address is the stigma long-associated with mental health issues, but Sutherland has seen progress. During COVID-19, public figures used social media to normalize these topics. “It’s helpful to see celebrities they admire talking about their struggles and it helps kids open up about their challenges,” Sutherland said. In addition, community workshops can be particularly beneficial to reach families from various cultural backgrounds and communicate about mental health services available. “It is important to have bilingual therapists — as CFBHS provides — to speak to families in their language,” she added.

Through this partnership, the ACPS Office of Student Support Teams works closely with the school-based therapists in their buildings to determine appropriate referrals for mental health support and help families connect to the service. Division schools served by CFBHS include: Alexandria City High School’s four campuses (King Street, Minnie Howard, Chance for Change and Satellite), Francis C. Hammond Middle School, George Washington Middle School, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School and Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School.

“The expansion of the program that has occurred over the past school year has really increased our opportunities for collaboration and student and family access to mental health support,” ACPS Director of School Social Work Faiza Jackson said, praising the partnership.

Both Dr. Fuller and Sutherland believe the partnership between CFBHS and ACPS reassures students that they are not alone and help is available. “We’ve definitely seen families benefit from our partnership,” Dr. Fuller shared.

More information about CFBHS and its services is available online.

  • 2022-23
  • Partner & Volunteer Highlight