CHICO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
HOW A CRISIS RESPONSE STRENGTHENED A LONG-TERM SUPPORT SYSTEM
Located in California’s Sacramento Valley, Chico Unified School District serves 14,000+ students across 23 schools. With a mission to ensure all students achieve high levels of academic and personal success, the district strives to address the diverse needs of students and promote lifelong learning. Chico Unified ensures every member of the district community is supported by offering a diverse curriculum at each school site, and providing robust academic and mental health support services.
Responding to crisis
“We have students who are coming from a wide variety of situations,” said Jay Marchant, Assistant Superintendent at Chico Unified School District. “Some come from low-socioeconomic households or have been impacted by homelessness, others may have families affected by drug abuse – having staff who are there to help is imperative.”
Chico Unified has a wide range of mental health support services in place to assist students, families and staff. Counselors, psychologists and case managers are available to connect with students – an especially helpful resource when crisis struck in the form of a devastating wildfire.
of students qualify for free or
MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
Demand due to crisis
In November 2018, Chico Unified was impacted by California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire, the Northern California Camp Fire. Though the district has a multitiered system of support (MTSS) in place, the impact of the fire left staff members feeling overwhelmed with trying to match up need with support for students.
“We saw our population change drastically, there were a lot of displaced families who needed to find new places to live and work,” said Kelly Staley, Superintendent at Chico Unified School District. “Even though the Camp Fire has passed, a lot of trauma has been left behind – for our students, their families and our surrounding communities.”
During this hard time, the true dedication of district faculty and staff was able to shine. Knowing their school community needed mental health care access, the district proactively sought out a solution.
“We’ve always worked to prioritize mental health care, and after the fire the need for support became even more pressing,” said Staley. “At the end of the day, we realize that when it comes to very specific mental health situations, our county needs additional support.” Remaining committed to their mission, district leaders established a robust mental health care support program through Care Solace.
Though devastating, the Camp Fire became Chico Unified’s “lightbulb moment.”
“I was introduced to Care Solace after hearing Chad Castruita, the organization’s CEO, speak at a superintendent’s conference, and I knew the support and services they offer were exactly what we needed,” said Tim Cariss, Director of Assessment & Accountability at Chico Unified School District. “Our area was already in need of mental health support prior to the fire, and the need was only exacerbated post-fire.”
Care Solace calms the chaos of mental health care coordination for school systems and families. By lifting the heavy burden associated with identifying when support is needed and coordinating community-based or virtual mental health care options, Care Solace makes it easier to connect with resources and providers.
“Our Director of Special Education, Diane Olsen’s, initial reaction was ‘we need these services’,” said Ted Sullivan, Director of Elementary Education and Homeless/Foster Youth Liaison at Chico Unified School District. “After we introduced Care Solace to our district family and demonstrated the services they offer, it became the easiest sell in the history of Chico Unified.”
Matching students with support
In Chico Unified, help begins at the school level.
“Nothing beats outreach from people students already know, like a teacher or one of our counselors,” said Staley. “Care Solace is a tool to help lift the burden of care coordination from the shoulders of our faculty and staff.”
Care Solace is a web-based system that uses proprietary technology and a vast database of mental health care resources to find carefully verified care providers and community resources. The solution also provides access to an around-the-clock Care Companion team, where care coordinators are available to guide the district’s staff members and families through processes related to insurance, provider availability, wait times and scheduling.
“Oftentimes, students will connect with one of our staff members first, who can then work with Care Solace, if needed, to conduct a warm hand-off and determine the best next steps to take,” said Sullivan. “Our school counselors and case managers always maintain contact with students, support that is occurring before Care Solace is still happening after Care Solace.”
Since implementing Care Solace in December 2019, the service has resulted in more than 636 connections to community-based care.
Combatting the national mental health crisis
A new report found that rates of anxiety, depression and suicide are on the rise among US teens of all demographics and household income levels. The same report indicates that youth are 21 times more likely to visit a school-based health clinic for their mental health care than a community-based clinic. “After we introduced Care Solace to our district families and demonstrated the services they offer, it became the easiest sell in the history of Chico Unified,” says Ted Sullivan, Director of Elementary Education and Homeless/Foster
Because of Care Solace’s reporting methods, Marchant and the Chico Unified leadership team were able to identify depression and anxiety as the top mental health issues that resulted in care referrals in their community.
“Depression and anxiety are two top concerns for our
district,” said Marchant. “Given the prominence of these issues, we invested in mindfulness training and techniques for our staff members, who can now provide additional classroom support to students in need.”
By combining staff support with resources like Care Solace and inner Explorer, a mindfulness app, much-needed mental health support is more readily available.
Rebuilding a community
As Chico Unified continues to use Care Solace, staff members are grateful for the ease it provides to get members of the school community the help they need.
“One of the nice things about the program is it’s providing much needed services, but the financial and time resources from the staff perspective are minimal,” said Staley.
24,000 people were displaced by the Camp Fire, and it left behind extensive trauma for Chico Unified and its surrounding communities. With Care Solace integrated into the MTSS, Chico Unified is able to meet the growing demand for mental health services.
“Enrollment at our district is rising, and thanks to the internal support of our staff, and external support of our community partners and Care Solace, we’re able to meet the immense need for mental health support in our area,” Staley shared. “The combination of services we’re able to provide ensures we’re able to meet individuals where they are, and serve the whole person.”
About Care Solace
Care Solace is a web-based care navigation system that enables the fast, easy and convenient connection of students and families in need of mental health care to qualified providers and resources. Care Companions are available 24/7/365 to help families and staff through the process of accessing community-based mental health programs and resources or telehealth services. Visit CareSolace.org to find out how we can partner with your district to support and strengthen your MTSS.