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Improving access to child mental health services

Mental health services can be hard to access for children and adolescents in South Carolina. In addition to a shortage of providers and resources, there are a lot of barriers parents and children face when seeking and maintaining that care. This is an ongoing problem that assistant professor Dr. Kathrene Brendell has spent years trying to solve.

While working on her DNP, Dr. Brendell partnered with Karen Cooper-Haber of Intervention Services and Viki Kelchner, then a guidance counselor at Richland Northeast High School, to launch Project Success, an intervention program that worked with students returning from an alternative school. The program was designed to teach the students the educational and life skills they needed to succeed in school and give them confidence and support to complete their education. Over the course of five years, the percentage of students returning from the alternative school that dropped out or were expelled fell from 59% to 10.27%.

The support their team was providing was helpful, but there was definitely a need for more. “This was where I really saw the need for something more than what we were offering. It seemed to me that the missing piece was med management, and the perfect person to fill that need is a psych mental health nurse practitioner,” Dr. Brendell said.

Dr. Brendell is collaborating with the Department of Mental Health and looking for a grant that will accomplish three things: provide an ideal place to train nurse practitioner students in child and adolescent care, open a niche market for psych mental health nurse practitioners that want to work with children and provide continuity of care for the children, adolescents and their families. 

This will expand upon an infrastructure already in place by the Department of Mental Health, which already places counselors in over 500 schools in South Carolina, and allows for the implementation of the treatment team model that would holistically address the needs of the children. This would bring together administrators, teachers, school nurses and other mental health providers within the schools to work in the same direction instead of overlapping or leaving gaps in care. 

Having nurse practitioners in schools will make for an ideal precepting site so that nurse practitioner students have the opportunity, either in person or through tele-health, to have the experience of working with children and adolescents, doing diagnostic interviews, creating a care plan, making medication recommendations and providing education to the child and parents.

“This is a moving target,” Dr. Brendell said. “The model for mental health care is changing and there are a lot of organizations in South Carolina trying to come together collaboratively to address children’s mental health needs.”


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