You miss a day of school, you start to think how will I catch up? A day turns into a few days, now you think you are really behind in your school work and you begin to worry about what other people will think about you missing school, what will your teacher say? How will you respond? How will you maintain your friendships? These are the thoughts and feelings faced by students who miss school due to mental health. Sharon Dills is a Mental Health Worker in Schools who supports youth who have not been attending school and helps them find success in their education.
#1. What is involved in your role?
As a mental health worker in schools my role is to support kids and families who are not attending school because the child has a mental health issue that is preventing them from attending. When a child is not attending school, there are implications for the school, the family and the child. The focus of schools is that every child needs an education, but there may be many reasons why a child may not be attending. This is where my role comes into play, and my goal is for the child who is experiencing mental health issues to receive an education. My job encompasses education plans, school observations, groups – family skill building/attachment/anxiety, and presentations for schools on mental health.
#2. Why did you become involved as a Mental Health Worker in Schools?
I have worked with schools in the past, I like the collaboration between schools and our program. I think for many of the students I work with they are misunderstood, part of what I can do is help the schools be understanding and compassionate towards the students who are struggling. I think there has been a lot of growth and understanding with schools in relation to mental health, but there is still work to be done.
#3. Why do you enjoy working at CMHA WW?
The opportunity to work with the youth and families that we work with is a huge privilege. Seeing a change for the better in a child who has previously struggled and you start to see success within their school setting – that’s what drives and motivates me. I enjoy the collaboration of the Child and Adolescent team at CMHA WW. The Child and Adolescent services team works together, each of us brings a variety of skills and knowledge that help our clients. I also love working with the schools and building relationships to pave the way for better understanding of the struggles faced by some of our kids.
#4. Have you always worked in mental health?
I have always worked in mental health in some capacity. I have worked with adults with developmental needs, young children, and in childcare. There has always been a mental health component, but I have not always worked for a mental health organization.
#5. How do you support students? Parents?
My goal as a Mental Health Worker in Schools is to get the child I am supporting an education. I work with the schools to create a plan for the student, which sometimes involves me walking with the child to school or an alternative schedule. In order for students to get an education, alternatives can be explored that may look different from the traditional school setting. This may include programs such as Bosco, New Way, Cadence, home instruction, SAL (supported alternative learning), Second Chance and others. I help parents become involved in the plans for their child’s education, part of my role is to help parents navigate the system, so they can become good advocates for their child’s educational needs. If a student is on IEP (Individual Education Plan) I encourage parents and students to be a part of their IEP, so they understand the resources that are available to the child and what accommodations the school has made to support them.
#6. What are you particularly proud of during your time at CMHA WW?
I worked with a boy who was in elementary school, we collaborated with the school to get the child to attend. I walked with the child to school, they were very supportive and worked really hard to create a program for the child where he had success. The student then started to attend elementary school full time and is now attending high school full time. This is just one example of a number where a student has had success over a period of time because there has been great collaboration between the school and CMHA WW services including counselling and treatment for both the child and the family. It shows that when everyone comes together there can be very good outcomes for the student.
Where to find help:
If you are a parent and you have concerns about your child who is not attending school visit our Walk-in service for Children and Youth.
Walk-in and meet with a Mental Health Clinician to discuss your needs.
When: Tuesdays from 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (last appointment is 5:30 p.m.)
Where: 485 Silvercreek Parkway North at Woodlawn, Guelph (take the 20 or the 2A/B Guelph Transit Bus)
Sessions last approximately 90 minutes. There may be a waiting time to be seen.
If you are in crisis or wish to discuss whether CMHA has the right service for you, call Here 24/7: 1-844-437-3247 (HERE 247).
Follow the ‘Faces of CMHA’ series for a glimpse into the lives of the people who spend each day at the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington working to inspire and support people to achieve the quality of life they desire. Join our team, click here to view current employment opportunities at CMHA WW.