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Saratoga clinician to work with young Shen students

The Student Empowerment Program offers a range of mental health services to parents and students

The Saratoga Center for the Family has hired a new clinical social worker to work with children at six of Shenendehowa Central School District’s eight elementary schools.

Jen Barry, an Albany resident, will move among Chango, Karigon, Okte, Orenda, Skano and Tesago elementary schools to provide mental health services to students.

Barry, who has worked with adolescents for most of her career, has specialized in foster care placement and has worked with young victims of abuse and neglect. 

Her presence at Shen is the result of a partnership, established in 2015, between the school district and the Center for the Family. 

Barry said her job is to help students whose needs cannot be met by the skills and services provided by the district’s employed counselors. 

Typically, she deals with children who have experienced trauma, abuse or have diagnosable emotional and behavioral problems, she said.

“Most of my kids have to have a mental health diagnosis,” she said. “My role would really be to look at the underlying trauma.”

Barry, who remains an employee of the Saratoga Center for the Family, is part of Shen’s Student Empowerment Program, created as part of the district’s effort to expand mental health services across all grade levels.

For four years, Shenendehowa has worked with the center to place master-level, licensed clinicians in the elementary, middle and high schools. 

There are two clinicians in the elementary schools, one for high school students and one to cover all three middle schools. All are from the Saratoga Center for the Family.

The Student Empowerment Program offers a range of mental health services to parents and students, including identification and assessment of children with behavioral and emotional health needs; individual, group and family therapies for crisis intervention; consultations with parents, teachers and school administrators; and parent and teacher training on mental health issues.

Some of the cases she will address, Barry explained, include post-traumatic stress disorder and students who deal with trauma in nonverbal ways, such as lashing out at other students, teachers or falling behind in class.

Students who need the most help for behavioral issues often have to be pulled out of class to receive therapy, resulting in hours of missed instruction time, Barry said. 

By having her office in the elementary schools, she can meet with students without them missing large chunks of classroom time.

“Kids [who need the services] spend most of their time at school. It can be really helpful in that aspect,” she said.

Typically, a student is referred to Saratoga Center for the Family clinicians by school leaders or counselors who determine a student’s needs are greater than can be met by school staff.

Since Oct. 1, 2015, the center has had 538 referrals from the district.

The center has seven potential patients on a wait list for appointments now, with a goal of scheduling them for services in the coming months.  

Though the services provided by center clinicians are not free, the organization offers many payment plans for parents whose finances are restricted. 

The center also receives grant funding from the state Office of Victim Services that can cover therapy costs.

Megan Heeder, licensed mental health counselor at the center and coordinator for the Student Empowerment Program, said working in a school as large and diverse as Shenendehowa presents unique challenges.

“All of the school buildings are different,” she said. “We know going in that there may be more need than one person can offer.”

Rebecca Carman, director of policy and community development for the district, said the most crucial service the clinicians provide is keeping students in school — providing a comprehensive approach to therapy that involves school staff, parents, teachers and the clinicians themselves.

Shenendehowa has just started to analyze attendance and tardiness rates of students under the care of center clinicians, which will give educators an idea of how effective the services are.

“Obviously, it’s different for every student,” Carman said. “If they come to school one day more than they were, that’s a success.”

The addition of more clinicians is contingent on need, Carman added.

“It’s a continued partnership that we’re constantly working on,” she said.

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