DuPage schools offer free professional mental health care to students and families

Ten CARES Clinics, which provide no-cost, confidential mental health care to students and their families enrolled in participating DuPage school districts, are now open for service. The therapy sessions will take place off-campus, after school, and on weekends.

CARE is an acronym for Community, Advocacy, Resilience, Engagement, and Support, which are the guiding principles of the program.

To offset the program costs, the school districts will utilize grant funds they were awarded last year from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

DuPage Regional Superintendent of Schools Amber Quirk says the CARE Clinics are an amazing opportunity for families — one she hopes they will take advantage of.

“We know many of our students have been struggling since the pandemic,” Quirk said. “The usual process of getting an appointment with a mental health care provider can seem insurmountable for families who are low-income, uninsured or underinsured — especially if English is not their first language.

“The appeal of this program is that because costs are covered by a grant, no insurance is no problem — plus there’s little to no wait time for appointments,” Quirk said.

The challenge of getting mental health care isn’t limited to DuPage County. According to the National Council for Mental Well-being, a large majority of Americans (76%) believe mental health is just as important as physical health, but limited provider options, long wait times, cost, and poor insurance coverage are common barriers.

In fact, one in four Americans reported having to choose between getting mental health treatment and paying for daily necessities.

However, Quirk is optimistic about this program reaching underserved populations in DuPage County.

“A stipulation of the grant money is that equity is promoted and incorporated into the program, so my team at the DuPage Regional Office of Education is facilitating professional development and regular training on health equity for the schools involved,” Quirk said.

In addition, school districts have pinpointed the most common non-English languages within their boundaries and have distributed marketing materials in those languages.

A company called ReferralGPS is playing a pivotal role in connecting families to the right clinician. Amit Thaker, the founder and CEO, says they have created easy-to-use websites and contracted with 245 clinicians in DuPage County — many of whom are bilingual — to facilitate the care of DuPage students and their families.

“We’re empowering communities to prioritize and nurture their mental well-being by streamlining the process of getting mental health care,” Thaker said. “To start the process of getting an appointment, parents simply go to the website corresponding to their child’s school district, answer a few questions, and a ReferralGPS representative will arrange an appointment with a clinician.”

To ensure confidentiality, Thaker says clinicians’ offices will not be on school property. “Our goal is to match families with a clinician near the school — or one that works via telehealth if that is more convenient,” Thaker said.

Quirk has high hopes for the CARE Clinics and the effect they will have on DuPage students.

“Indian Prairie School District 204 piloted this program last year, and the results were better than we could have imagined,” Quirk said. “The clinicians partnering with the schools, as well as ReferralGPS, excel at coming alongside families to provide the necessary tools to navigate challenging situations.”

According to ReferralGPS, the licensed counselors and therapists at the CARES Clinics will compassionately address a wide spectrum of issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, grief, peer relationships, family dynamics, behavioral issues, anger management, coping skills, mood disorders, and more.

“Our goal,” says Quirk, “is to transform the landscape of mental health care accessibility so our students and their families can get the right help at the right time so they can succeed both in school and in their personal lives.”

Below are the participating school districts and the websites where enrolled families can start the process of getting mental health treatment:

• Bloomingdale Elementary District 13:

• Downers Grove Community High School District 99:

• DuPage High School District 88 (Addison & Villa Park):

• Elmhurst Unit School District 205:

• Fenton Community High School District 100 (Bensenville):

• Glenbard Township High School District 87 (Glen Ellyn):

• Indian Prairie Unit District 204 (Aurora):

• Marquardt Elementary District 15 (Glendale Heights):

• Salt Creek Elementary District 48 (Villa Park):

• Villa Park Elementary District 45:

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