ST. LOUIS - As part of a continued collaboration between Mercy Kids and the Archdiocese of St. Louis Catholic Education Center, a new pilot program emerged last school year – Mercy Kids in Schools – to address and respond to trauma and stress for both students, their families and school staff.
The program launched in January at three Catholic elementary schools: Most Holy Trinity, St. Louis Catholic Academy and St. Louis the King. Developed as a result of research that showed the harmful effects of childhood trauma on future physical and mental health, it aims to reduce trauma incidents and the negative impact of childhood trauma by providing prevention and intervention techniques to the children and their families.
“Childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects and comes in different forms,” said Ujjwal Ramtekkar, MD, Mercy Kids child and adolescent psychiatrist. “Kids brains are like wet cement, the impressions made early are permanent. If we can alter the trajectory of brain development early with interventions promoting mental health, we can hopefully change the cycle in these communities.”
Mercy Kids in Schools combines telehealth technology with a school-based licensed clinical social worker to help struggling families overcome some of the largest barriers to health care – transportation, time and access. The program provides counseling, professional development and resilience training, as well as connects students and their families to area agencies and resources, including a Mercy Kids psychiatrist when needed, both virtually and in person.
The telehealth component allows the clinical social worker – who shares time between the three schools – to more efficiently address acute crisis situations in real time. More importantly, it means parents won’t need to juggle time off work or find transportation to take children to appointments and students will spend more time in the classroom.
"With the support of Mercy Kids in Schools, we are able to advocate for our students and families and address the real and underlying needs hindering their education,” said Jessica Kilmade, principal at Most Holy Trinity. “The vital services provided by our Mercy Kids social worker allow Most Holy Trinity to truly foster the spiritual, social, emotional and educational development of our community."
Dr. Ramtekkar added, “In the office, we only get an hour – it’s like only a stroke of the paintbrush. The schools see the full picture, which is why it was so important to the program to have a licensed clinical social worker in the school. It’s built into the program and reflects the whole picture with partnership between school and mental health providers.”
Mercy Kids in Schools is currently funded entirely through private donations to the Mercy Health Foundation St. Louis.