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RPS Extends Mental Health Services Through CARES Act

Carver school
G. W. Carver Elementary School is one of three new Richmond schools to receive mental health services from the nonprofit organization ChildSavers. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM News)

Three more Richmond schools are receiving mental health services from nonprofit ChildSavers, paid for with $500,000 of CARES Act coronavirus relief aid. Those schools are Boushall Middle, Carver Elementary and Blackwell Elementary.

ChildSavers now provides ten schools with clinical staff that offer one-on-one therapy services for students, and training for staff. The organization also offers the RPS community immediate response teams that manage mental health crises on-call. 

ChildSavers CEO L. Robert Bolling says his organization partnered with Richmond Public Schools in 2016 to focus on areas with significant dropout rates, high exposure to traumatic events and large concentrations of poverty.

“We started in three schools in the East End of Richmond, and expanded that to seven schools by the third year. We're now beginning our fourth year, and we'll be supporting kids from 10 different schools,” he said.

ChildSavers is currently delivering its therapy services to students virtually over Zoom due to the pandemic. Because of this, sessions this year are shorter and more frequent than traditional sessions. Bolling says in-person services for students still continue “in very few cases,” where temperature checks, hand washing and other safety measures are in place.

He says the decision by lawmakers to classify tele-health services as reimbursable under Medicaid was “a game changer,” since a large majority of the students ChildSavers serves are Medicaid recipients. 

Bolling says the organization’s services primarily serve Black and Latinx students, as the number of English learners in Richmond schools grows.

“Although 90% of kids we serve are Black in the school service, one of the reasons for going to the South Side of the city was this demand that was coming from children who are Latinx, and we wanted to serve them better,” he said.

Bolling says his organization is actively working on recruiting a more diverse staff. Currently, about 40% of ChlidSavers’ staff is clinicians of color. He says the organization is also focused on hiring bilingual mental health professionals.

He said it was important to have clinicians “who either have had [the same] life experience,” as the students they care for, not least of all because they’ll better understand the challenges they face. 

Besides the three new schools taking part in the ChildSavers program, the services are also available at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle and Preschool, Fairfield Court Elementary, Woodville Elementary, Henry L. Marsh III Elementary, Overby-Sheppard Elementary and Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary. 

In a statement, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said the program expansion will make for “safer and more inclusive school cultures,”

“We see positive results in academics and social well-being in our schools with therapists. Not only are clinicians providing critical therapeutic services, but ChildSavers’ school-based teams are also serving as valuable resources for teachers and staff by helping them navigate challenging situations,” Kamras said.