Outcry Over High School Clinic Exposes Deep Divisions on Mental Health

On the January evening when the superintendent introduced staff from Generations Family Health Center, the nonprofit health care group that was to provide services in the school, the visitors peered out of Zoom screens with cheery smiles.

The plan was for licensed therapists from Generations to work in a space on the school’s third floor. Students could be referred by teachers or family members, or could come in themselves, and therapy sessions would be scheduled during school hours. Therapists would bill insurance based on a sliding fee scale, using federal funds if necessary, so there would be no cost to the school and little, if any, to the families.

Then a chill entered the room as the board members began peppering them with questions. The visitors’ smiles faded.

Would they advise students on birth control or abortion? (They wouldn’t give medical advice, but might discuss if it comes up.) If children were referred and didn’t want therapy, would they be forced to do it? (No.) Would students be seen by peers going into treatment, exposing them to ridicule and stigma? (Hopefully not.) Could they get therapy without their parents knowing about it?

Conceivably, yes, was the answer. By law, clinicians in Connecticut can provide six sessions of mental health treatment to minors without parental consent under a narrow set of circumstances — if the minor sought treatment, it was deemed clinically necessary and if requiring parental notification would deter the minor from receiving it.

This provision is used rarely; in the nearby town of Putnam, which has hosted a school-based mental health clinic for nine years, treating hundreds of students, no child has ever been treated without parental permission, said Michael Morrill, a Putnam school board member.

But it was a major sticking point for Norm Ferron, one of the Killingly board members, who said the arrangement would “give a student a lot more access to counseling without seeking parental approval, and I’m not real keen on that.”

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