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North Country Health Consortium to expand student assistance programs

September 08, 2021
REGION — During its Aug. 18 meeting, the Executive Council approved $75,000 for the North Country Health Consortium to expand its Student Assistance Program into under-served schools.

NCHC's Student Assistance Program has been around for over a decade and provides in-school counselors to address underage or high-risk drinking and drug misuse. The organization serves ten schools, including Woodsville Middle and High Schools, Lisbon Middle and High Schools and the North Country Charter Academy.

Other schools include the White Mountains Community College, White Mountains Regional High School, Berlin High School, Groveton High School and Gorham High School. The additional funding will now allow NCHC counselors to establish services in the Berlin and Groveton Middle Schools and transition part-time positions to full-time at the Gorham and Berlin High Schools.

NCHC Senior Program Manager Bob Thompson said the funding was timely. While the data is not yet in on COVID-19's impact on youth drug and alcohol misuse, he said community reports indicated a rise in activity.

"The mental health challenges and substance use challenges that our students are facing right now are directly related. We know anecdotally through educators and community partnerships that our youth are struggling to cope with this different way of living - not just in school but out of school as well," stated Thompson.

Both the Littleton High School and Bethlehem's Profile School provide similar services, though internally funded. However, Thompson said it remained tricky for small, underfunded school districts to absorb the costs of such preventative programs.

NCHC Student Assistance Program Coordinator Laura Hosley added, "Some schools have had a revolving door when it comes to staffing. It's difficult for them to keep somebody in place for any length of time to get the training and become experienced and fluent enough with the program. We found that there's a real advantage to providing a level of continuity that the schools wouldn't be able to have on their own."

Hosley said the agency looked to fill service gaps in several North Country school districts and the programs were successful because they removed barriers. Full-time, in-school counselors could forge relationships and teach curriculums, she added.

"The bottom line is we want to do good for the students. We want to give them the help that they deserve so they can move on and become successful independent adults, which is hard, especially now," stated Hosley.

Substance accessibility has increased in recent years, noted Hosley. She said it was partly due to the opioid crisis and increased internet access. Another, more critical factor was the rise of stress, depression and anxiety during the pandemic.

"With this program, you can help reach the younger kids and teach them coping skills and emotional regulation. It's huge for them to recognize what those feelings are and ask for support to help them avoid a dark path. The earlier you catch somebody, the easier it is to impart on them the emotional development that's required to be successful," added Thompson.

The Executive Council approved an additional $2,032,630 for the continuation of rapid response crisis intervention services, mental and substance use disorder treatment and other related recovery services for youth and adults who are under or uninsured and impacted by COVID-19. A portion of that funding will also serve healthcare professionals.

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