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May 24, 2021

CHOP to provide mental health services to Girard College students

The Independence Blue Cross Foundation is funding the initiative, which aims to reach children with undiagnosed conditions

Mental Health Students
Girard College Philly Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

In an effort to expand health care access to underserved communities, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is providing training to Girard College teachers, administrators and counselors on screening students for undiagnosed mental health conditions. CHOP also will make telehealth services available to the boarding school's students.

More than half of U.S. children with a mental health condition do not receive treatment, research shows — and youth from underserved communities are less likely to receive mental health care services than white children. 

In an effort to improve access, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will provide telehealth services to students at Girard College — a boarding school for academically gifted, underserved children — beginning next fall. The hospital already is training teachers, administrators and counselors to screen and refer students with undiagnosed mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, trauma and substance use disorder. 

The multi-year initiative, announced Monday, will be funded by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation

"For many of us, mental health issues that first arise in childhood last into adulthood," said Stephen P. Fera, executive vice president of Public Affairs at IBX. "Research shows that intervening early — when the signs of risk first emerge — can reduce both the likelihood and severity of mental health disorders over the long term."

Girard College, wedged between between the city's Sharswood and Fairmount neighborhoods, provides a free education to about 300 students in grades 1-12. Scholarships are funded by the school's endowment and donations. To be eligible, students must live in a single-parent household, meet income requirements and perform at or above grade level. 

The school has educated thousands of students since its 1848 founding as a boarding school for white, orphaned males. It opened to people of color and women in the 20th century — a new mural will commemorate its racial integration — and broadened its definition of orphan. Today, the majority of its students are Black. 

About 80% of Girard College students have experienced depression, family or community violence, substance abuse, family incarceration, homelessness or food insecurity, President Heather Wathington said. 

"Our goal in partnering with the Children's Hospital is to provide the necessary intervention and support for our students and equip them with the skills needed to negotiate and overcome obstacles to learning and growth," Wathington said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a youth mental health crisis that was already growing. Youth suicide rates have been increasing for a decade. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among youth and young adults. And since 2016, the number of children ages 6-12 who have visited children's hospitals for self harm has doubled. 

Last year, emergency mental health visits rose by 21% among children ages 5-11 between April and October. They jumped by 31% for children ages 12-17. CHOP now has up to 50 patients per day on its waiting list for mental health beds. 

"There has never been a more urgent time to address children's mental health," said Dr. Tami Benton, chief of CHOP's department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "Kids should be able to get their health care all in one place — well care, sick visits and behavioral health. We're creating models and leveraging technology through telehealth to make that happen."

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