Story by Jeff Burkhead, courtesy wellcommons.com, a partner site of The Lawrence Journal-World
When Kathleen Boyd sees a child having trouble in school, she sees more than a student struggling with grades.
She sees beyond the classroom.
She sees a boy or girl who is part of a school, a family and a larger community who needs support.
“I look at each child in terms of his or her world,” said Boyd, who is a Bert Nash child and family therapist in Eudora. “Life happens to all of us and can often be overwhelming. Kids struggle as well as adults when there is loss, a family illness, divorce, change of schools or financial pressures, to name a few.
“These stressors can make concentrating at school, navigating relationships and staying on track difficult. When someone is struggling with constant stress, anger or sadness, it can come across as chronic irritability, apathy, sudden rage or withdrawal,” Boyd said. “Learning, homework and grades typically suffer as well as relationships.”
Accessing supports during those difficult times can make a positive difference.
“Many people still do not realize that community mental health centers offer more than therapy and medication,” Boyd said. “Bert Nash offers a range of wraparound services in the home, school and community for qualified kids as well as their parents. Bert Nash also offers groups to help a child and their parents learn skills to better manage moods, problem-solve, increase self-control and to be more successful in relationships.”
Boyd’s position originally was funded through a federal grant, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, which Eudora received in 2008. But her position now is self-sufficient.
Boyd works collaboratively with teachers, school counselors, administrators and WRAP workers at each of the three Eudora schools. WRAP (Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities) is a Bert Nash program that places a master-level clinician where the students are — in the schools.
“We strive to work as a team,” Boyd said. “The collaboration here is remarkable. We share the same goal — to help kids succeed academically, socially and emotionally.”
Boyd knows problems in school can lead to even bigger problems down the line. Lack of success in school often results in lower self-esteem and increases a student’s chances of giving up, dropping out and getting into drugs, alcohol and legal problems.
“If they don’t succeed in school, it could be an indicator that the rest of their lives will be tough financially and relationally,” Boyd said.
Which makes it important to reach kids as soon as possible once problems surface.
“If we could intervene earlier, a child’s chance for success is greater,” Boyd said. “The last thing we want is for a kid to fail in life because they didn’t get the support they needed.”
In her role in Eudora, Boyd works with a wide range of students with varying needs. Typically referrals from the school are for those needing more intense mental health supports.
“I work with WRAP to address students who may benefit from more consistent individual or family therapy and possibly wraparound services,” Boyd said. “We often take on the more acute cases addressing mental health and life issues.”
Boyd’s office is in a large classroom at the West Resource Center in Eudora, formerly West Elementary School. The space is donated by the school district.
“The Eudora School District has been incredibly supportive,” Boyd said. “They have made it possible for Bert Nash to have a satellite office providing mental health services for Eudora kids and families.”
Eudora Superintendent Don Grosdidier said the collaboration with Bert Nash is unique for the community.
“The partnership with Bert Nash opens the door for community members to have easier access to services that improve their quality of life,” Grosdidier said. “When people who live in Eudora have easy access to mental health services, it helps create safe schools and a healthy community.
“This is the first time in Eudora’s history that residents could receive mental health services without leaving town,” Grosdidier said. “That is a huge positive impact for our community and the families who live here.”
Transportation was a barrier if people had to travel to receive mental health services, especially for low-income families.
“Transportation between Eudora and Lawrence is not easy for those without cars or whose budgets are tight,” Boyd said. “Many high-need kids come from families that have financial limitations. Providing services locally permits them to access services they otherwise might not have considered.”
Living in a small town can have other barriers.
“There’s often more stigma about seeking mental health services in a rural community,” Boyd said. “It’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps way of thinking that is part of our strong American heritage. It can also discourage people from asking for help, seeing it as weakness rather than an opportunity for life to become better.”
Through relationship building and networking within the community, Boyd said it is important to let people know help is available.
It’s her job to tell them.
And it’s a role she takes seriously.
“It has truly been a privilege to work with the schools, the students and their families, working collaboratively to help these kids become more successful,” she said.