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A closer look at the role of one school psychologist in the midst of a youth mental health crisis

Dr. Caicina Jones, school psychologist at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn.
Maria Gardner Lara
Dr. Caicina Jones, school psychologist at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn.

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Nationally there’s a shortage of school psychologists at a time that experts call a youth mental health crisis.

Doctor Caicina Jones is the school psychologist at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn.

Jones said before the pandemic there was already a lingering youth mental health crisis. She said since then, the challenge has been exacerbated. She said for some students who were managing low level anxiety and self-esteem, it’s only worsened.

“And then all of a sudden that grows and what may not have become an issue had things stayed status quo, all of a sudden, has become a clinical issue,” Jones said. “They would benefit from ongoing therapy.”

The role of a school psychologist in schools

She said across all districts, a major role school psychologists continue to play is helping identify and evaluate students who may need special education services.

Jones’ calendar is an array of pinks, oranges, greens, and yellows.

“I usually have a plan,” she said, “and then you get the school and things happen.”,

She consults with teachers, and conducts academic, behavioral and social emotional interventions. For instance, she does what she calls “academic stalking.”

“So, like going through all their grades, all their classes, their work, completion, their attendance, and kind of prompting them on, ‘hey, you know, oh, I see we didn't do well on this last test,” Jones said. “What can we do about that? What are our next steps?’”

She's also available when students have more immediate needs.

“’We're in tears, what's going on?,’’ she recalled telling a student who was distressed. “What can we do? What are some strategies to kind of reset ourselves and be able to be able to go on with our day?”

She's part of the student services team. Sometimes to reach students they visit them at home.

“And we'll come, and we talked to a student and we're like, ‘hey, like, we care about you,” she said. “We want to, we want to see you be successful. We want to see you like school, what do you need?’”

And there are limits to what a school psychologist can do.

She makes referrals for therapy when a student needs additional support, but that often means youth are being waitlisted for services. The demand for therapy surpasses the supply.

“And parents are really struggling,” she said, “because they're like, ‘Where can we go, you know, my child is having thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves, and they're really sad.’”

She said navigating insurance can be a hassle for families.

She said it’s easier said than done to just “go through your insurance.”

“Well, my insurance is maybe limited,” she said, “or if there are language barriers or time factors or transportation challenges, those sorts of things.”

And access is even more limited for families who can’t pay out of pocket when the insurance won’t cover the care.

“There aren't as many providers,” she said, “that offer a sliding fee scale that will take your Medicaid or that are accessible for those families.”

More school psychologists could provide students with more support early on. She works at a school that is better off compared to districts where a school psychologist may not be able to provide the range of services that she does.

Jones earned her doctorate in school psychology from Northern Illinois University.

Beginning in May, she’ll be part of the teaching staff in a school psychologist training program held at NIU. The program aims to increase the ranks of school psychologists in districts in northern Illinois where they're needed the most.

The program is funded through a $5.1 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.