COLCHESTER, Conn. (WTNH) – By the time COVID-19 swept across Connecticut in March 2020, Jen Paquette of Colchester was already three years into her daughter’s public school mental health journey.
“She was struggling quite a bit. She had some outbursts in school. The police were called a couple of times and this was a third-grader at the time.” Tori struggled to find the supports she needed in grades K-2.
“There’s days where I just sat and cried because it felt impossible,” said Jen Paquette.
By third grade, tori now 11—was sent to a therapeutic school in Danielson, an hour away from home in Colchester. Just two months later, covid ushered in two years of nearly all virtual learning.
“If a kid’s screaming and yelling in class. It’s not that they’re trying to disobey the rules. A lot of times it’s because there’s something they’re unable to process,” said Paquette.
Tori’s diagnosed with social anxiety, ADHD, and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. The diagnosis allowed her to develop tools to better manage.
“She’s actually going back to public schools in September, so a lot of good things have happened. She’s put in a lot of work,” said Paquette.
Connecticut’s mental health system has reached so-called crisis levels amid the pandemic.
Over 80 percent of 7th, 9th, and 11th graders surveyed in Southington school district earlier this year reported feeling sad or depressed.
14% said they attempted suicide—at least once. But what’s being done to treat undiagnosed patients.
“We have support staff in our school buildings right now. There’s a grant in this legislation that will help us increase the numbers of support staff that can help our students right there,” said Charlene Russell-Tucker, Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education.
Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut’s legislature set aside $100 million in the state budget this month in an effort to move kids through what has become a gridlocked system.
$21 million to open crisis centers across the state to ease the burden on emergency rooms. 10 million to expand school health centers in 36 districts and $8.6 million, so the mobile crisis unit can respond to psychiatric emergencies 24/7 instead of the police.
“This legislation will help us increase access to services. For example, we have more support staff that will be available to students–social workers to psychologists–they’ll be there to be more supportive as students may have issues or concerns. They can be there to support our students and work with families as well and to support our staff,” said Russell-Tucker.
For parents entering the system for the first time who feel like they’re facing an uphill battle. Paquette’s advice: remain persistent.
“You feel like you’re screaming something is happening here, we need to do some assessments. Even when the assessments are done, they come back inconclusive. Just be persistent. You know when something is going on with your child,” shared Paquette.