Social Worker hired to assist with mental health issues

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Photo by Sourish Dey

School Social Worker Caroline Kennedy speaks with Pupil Personnel Worker Valerie Toole. A key part of Kennedy’s job is communicating with students and staff. Kenndey has sought to build relationships with her co-workers and students.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Catherine Kennedy has joined the WJ staff as part of a new MCPS initiative to institute social workers in schools across the county, ensuring there is more specialized mental health support available to students.
According to MCPS, social workers have been assigned to provide mental health and mindfulness resources, implement counseling services and promote school, parent, student and community relationships through workshops. Kennedy’s main role is to work a tier above counselors for students who require more specific help.
Social workers have been assimilated into schools because of the growing population of students in need of assistance.
“[My job is to help] students that need more support or are going through a crisis or don’t have access to resources outside of school,” Kennedy said.
The new position aims to ease the load on counselors.
“Counselors have a very wide range of students and numbers of students so it can be hard to manage every one,” counselor Megan Adkins said.
Kennedy’s main role uniquely centers around providing more targeted care.
“The social worker’s only job is social and emotional support. Whereas our jobs, we have so many other components, they focus solely on that,” counselor Lynn Jarosi said.
Kennedy’s primary role will be crisis intervention, defined as a psychotherapeutic approach to stabilize those whose coping mechanisms are insufficient or may lead to harm, and to assist students’ other mental health struggles. She can be found in room 138D.
“I’m going to have a caseload of about 25 students that I see regularly or weekly,” Kennedy said.
However, she does not want to discourage students outside this group from seeking support.
“I am also going to do a lot of check-ins for students who need to talk to somebody and their counselor is not available or they had a difficult morning or they’re worried about a friend,” Kennedy said.
Another source of support is the Student Well-Being team, a group of staff dedicated to helping with mental health issues including the school social worker, school psychologist, counselors, administrators and the Pupil Personnel Worker among others.
Before reaching out to her directly, Kennedy advises students to first notify their counselor or a trusted staff member regarding mental health concerns. These staff can then take the steps to either refer students directly to the school social worker or to the Student Well-Being team.
“Teachers, parents, even students refer people to the Student Well-Being team and we discuss the concerns; whether they’re academic, attendance, mental health or multiple and [then] we see what interventions have been used, what interventions could be utilized and we base recommendations off there,” Kennedy said.
Since privacy is a common concern among students, Kennedy has said she will maintain confidentiality unless someone is hurting or threatening to hurt themselves or others. Although Kennedy does not need parent consent to have meetings with students, she has emphasized that it is beneficial to talk to parents if students give their permission.
As one of the new mental health providers at WJ, Kennedy hopes to decrease mental health stigma and can provide mental health aid, but she recognizes potential challenges.
“Students being willing to meet, being willing to miss class and being open to talking, especially in a high achieving school. It’s hard to make time for wellness,” Kennedy said.

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