48 CURRENT | Meridian Health Services | Summer 2018 Students and educators should feel safe at school. As the debate about ending school violence continues, the demand for Meridian Health Services’ school-based mental health programs has increased. In 2012, on the heels of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Meridian initiated a community forum that gathered area superintendents and educators to discuss violence in schools. “A lot of schools have reached out to us, especially after the most recent school violence,” said Heidi Monroe, Meridian’s Director of Children’s Services. “Schools are understanding that we can impact children by helping them learn how to cope.” Meridian Health Services currently provides services to 19 school systems and serves a total of 280 schools from Porter to Orange Counties. Meridian works directly with local schools to make campuses more productive learning environments, by addressing social and emotional needs before disruptive behavior becomes a crisis. “The idea is to help children and their family members develop more adaptive coping skills. We want to get the child to a better level of functioning to improve overall wellness,” Monroe said. Meridian’s school-based services offer social and emotional support to help students cope with a variety of issues, including trauma, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. “The schools have been very receptive, especially in Muncie. Two-and-half years ago, all we really had were privileges for a spot treatment basis—we would come in and work for 20 to 30 minutes with individual clients. Now, we are fully embedded in the Muncie community, and have at least one staff member in each school, five to seven hours a day,” Monroe said. Educators say that Meridian’s presence in schools is very helpful. “Meridian’s expertise is invaluable to our school and community,” said Eric Grimm, principal of Northside Middle School in Muncie. “Having the ability to minimize problems in the classroom before they grow out of control is key to improving the learning experience for both teachers and students.” School partnerships continue to expand. Meridian recently worked with New Castle elementary schools in small group trainings on trauma in the classroom. The program focuses on identifying toxic stress events that can derail emotional and social development. Additional training programs focus on motivational interviewing, a communication technique that teaches the use of open-ended questions to enhance relationships with students and families, and de- escalation techniques to intervene in a crisis. Looking beyond the behavior is an important part of the strategy. External factors, including addiction and poverty, often increase the complexity of mental health issues. “We are realizing the impact that a parent’s use of an illicit substance has on a child. Opioids are so deadly, and we have seen such a loss through addiction. It’s much more profound than people previously thought,” Monroe said. Trauma causes more than emotional issues. It also affects the brain. “We are really starting to understand the brain science behind trauma. Children are physically impacted by parents going to prison or jail and community violence. Neuroscience is showing what complex trauma actually does to the brain and how it impacts self-worth and cognitive function, as well as the potential impact on future health,” Monroe said. Repeated trauma comes out in behavioral ways, according to Monroe. “We are seeing that traumatized children might need some focused intervention,” she said. Meridian school programs have addressed issues of self-harm or violence toward others. Working in schools to help students overcome trauma helps the individual, and it improves the entire learning community. “We’ve seen a big impact in time-in-seat, which is important for schools—and a decrease in behavioral problems. The extra role modeling also benefits the entire classroom. Students are learning from watching their peers who are developing better coping mechanisms. It’s been a terrific soft impact,” Monroe said. The presence in schools has also led to better communication with families. “Helping students cope at school has translated to how they behave at home,” Monroe said. Addressing the root cause of behavioral problems is key to stopping violence—both in and out of school. Monroe wants to give children the skills they need to function and thrive. “I would like to see our world become a better place. It’s not magic,” she said. “Young people have to learn to overcome the impact of trauma, and we as adults have to be cognizant and teach them.” ‘It’s about building positive relationships’ meridian in our schools current Meridian provides services to 280 schools throughout Indiana.