Child intervention team earns state award

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors recognized an early-intervention program for county students that has been lauded by the state.

Carla Taylor, director of the county Department of Social Services, addressed supervisors during their Tuesday meeting.

She said the Virginia Office of Children’s Services gave the county’s Community Policy Management Team a trophy during the office’s annual conference in Roanoke from April 26 through April 28.

Taylor said the team was recognized for its partnership with the National Counseling Group in Harrisonburg to identify and resolve problem behaviors in elementary and middle school students before their educations are affected.

The team includes Taylor; Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley; Gina Stetter, the school division’s special education director; and representatives of the county Health Department, juvenile and domestic relations court and the Northwestern Community Services Board.

Supervisor Richard Walker also serves on the team in a supervisory role.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Stetter said the team and the counseling group started a pilot program at W.W. Robinson Elementary and Peter Muhlenberg Middle in Woodstock 18 months ago.

The program lets counselors screen at-risk students for mental health issues and discuss problem behaviors with families before the child ends up in social services or juvenile detention.

“The secret is to get to them sooner before it escalates to a court hearing,” Taylor told supervisors.

The public-private partnership is the first of its kind in the state. Stetter said it helps locate counselors and other mental health resources that don’t burden families with logistical or economic hurdles.

“For most families, finding a counselor in Winchester and taking off work and taking the kids out of school every Thursday at 2 p.m. isn’t going to happen,” she said.

Taylor said the initiative has helped decrease the amount of student disciplinary infractions.

“We have kids who were regularly in the principal’s office who aren’t anymore,” she said.

While decreasing the number of suspensions and principal visits is important, Stetter said, the program is more focused on an “invisible group” of at-risk students.

“We’re looking at the students who might be sick all the time … but they’re trying to avoid class,” she said. “The ones who go into their rooms after school and don’t come out until the next morning.”

Taylor said the team is preparing a cost-benefit analysis to share with supervisors, but that preliminary esimates show the team’s work costs about $70 per week.

By contrast, Taylor said, sending at-risk students to residential rehabilitative programs or the juvenile court system can cost about $250 per day.

Walker called the initiative “a really positive thing” for at-risk children on Tuesday.

“They determine what the problems are,” he said. “The numbers have shown how early intervention is successful.”