Local youths who suffer from severe emotional problems will soon have access to Orange County mental health programs in their own neighborhood.
Centralia School District, following the lead of programs elsewhere in the county, will open in January a county-run mental health clinic on the campus of Raymond Temple Elementary School in Buena Park. It will provide services to students with emotional problems stemming from a variety of causes, including severe depression, a death in the family, divorce, alcoholism and even homelessness.
"This is a concept whose time has come," said Joanne T. Melillo, the district's administrator of special services. "We want to be able to service our students in our community; we don't want them to travel a half-hour to get to the services."
Currently, students receiving county mental health services must travel to programs offered in Fullerton, Anaheim, Garden Grove and Westminster.
Similar mental health clinics have opened in South County, which has nine school-based clinics. A clinic also opened last year at Westmont Elementary School in Westminster.
Melillo said the school district will provide the space to the Orange County Health Care Agency, which will set up and staff the clinic.
The clinic will serve the Centralia, Los Alamitos Unified, Savanna, Magnolia, Cypress and Anaheim Union High school districts. They formed the Greater Anaheim Special Education Local Plan Area to provide counseling for students with emotional problems.
The clinic will serve youths in all grades who are at risk of needing hospitalization or placed in a residential program, said Manny Robles of the county's Children and Youth Services agency. It is expected that the clinic will serve between 150 and 200 youth.
Students are referred to the services by schools, police departments, social services, hospitals and probation.
"They are kids with emotional needs, and they require outside intervention," said Luan Dean, a school psychologist with Centralia School District. "They require some type of individual therapy that the school cannot provide."
Services include evaluations, consultations, individual and family counseling, as well as crisis intervention to assist situations where severe depression could lead to suicide.
Services are offered according to a family's ability to pay; those with insurance coverage are referred to programs in the private sector.
The school districts and the county are joining forces to reach more children who need help. By bringing services closer to students, Robles said, it will enable those with emotional problems to get early treatment.
"If we catch them early enough and try to correct the problem, it's prevention," Robles said, adding that if a youth does not receive help, it could lead to more expensive treatment programs such as residential placement.
In addition, students who suffer from emotional and behavioral problems do not do well in the classroom, said Melillo.
"The schools are doing this to meet the changing needs of students," she said. "Offering mental health services is a reality for many students and their families and . . . we need to provide the services so we can keep them in school."