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As rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm among students shot up throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, Horry County Schools saw a need to be filled.

And a new partnership could help.

While the recommended caseload for general school counselors and rehabilitative behavioral health services counselors is around 20-25 students, some counselors have taken on as many as 40-45 students during the Pandemic, according to HCS head of student services Velna Allen.

She said counselors are unlikely to turn away a student in a crisis, but that demand was too much to keep up with.

The district has launched a pilot program with the Care Solace, a company that matches students, staff members and others in the district community with mental health resources outside the school system.

The district is working with Care Solace through the end of the school year, when district leaders and school counselors will discuss whether to continue the partnership, Allen said while addressing school board members Monday.

Obviously if we feel like it wasn’t beneficial for us, then we’re finished, ”she said. “If we do feel like it was beneficial then we’ll look at moving forward.”

HCS district leaders have contacted several North Carolina districts that have worked with Care Solace, Allen said.

She added that while she is generally skeptical of Exterior companies working with the school district, she felt Care Solace could be the right fit.

Allen received while mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and self-harm have always existed, their prominence in county schools has increased since the Onset of the Pandemic two years ago.

The district has seen students of all ages seek help through school counselors, Allen said. At least one employee at each school in the district will be trained in the Care Solace program.

The district will pay a flat fee for the program. Care Solace doesn’t charge a per student rate nor does it receive a payment from the private providers who work with students as a result of its coordination, Allen said. The cost of the Care Solace program wasn’t available Monday night.

The program accepts private insurance or Medicaid, Allen said.

It can also expand the specific services the district offers, she said.

For example, families can access group counseling through Care Solace. The company also has a drug and alcohol awareness program for students struggling with addiction, something HCS counseling does not currently offer.

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Mary Norkol covers education and COVID-19 for The Sun News through Report for America, an initiative which bolsters local news coverage. She joined The Sun News in June 2020 after graduating from Loyola University in Chicago, where she was editor-in-chief of the Loyola Phoenix. Norkol has won awards in podcasting, multimedia reporting, in-depth reporting and feature reporting from the South Carolina Press Association and the Illinois College Press Association. While in college, she reported breaking news for the Daily Herald and interned at the Chicago Sun-Times and CBS Chicago.


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