More than 50 schools in Massachusetts offer in-school counseling services to students with parents who are battling opioid addiction. 

Maddy Nadeau’s childhood was less than ideal. Her mother often could not care for her, leaving her older sister to do the job when she came home from elementary school. 

Maddy is one of many children affected by a parent’s substance use disorder, according to NPR

Luckily, her school is taking steps to help her overcome the trauma of such a childhood. In October, Congress allowed for $50 million annually for five years to be allotted to mental health services in schools for children affected by the opioid epidemic.

The girls eventually entered a foster home, which led to an adoption. Sarah Nadeau, their adoptive mother, told NPR both girls struggled with depression and anxiety, as well as performance in school. Maddy had a hard time especially, as she was exposed to opioids while in utero.

“That makes it very difficult for her brain to settle down enough to do more than one task at a time,” Nadeau told NPR.

Counselors at schools such as Maddy’s are employed by Gosnold, which is a substance use disorder treatment provider in Massachusetts. According to NPR, more and more schools are starting to screen and treat students who are considered at risk for opioid use disorder, as well as offer mental health services for those who have been affected by it.

“Schools have more kids who cannot access the learning environment,” Sharon Hoover, co-director of The National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told NPR.

According to Hoover, having such services in schools is proving effective.
”This is considered a preferable model of care,” she said. “The kids show up for treatment services because they’re not relying on a family member to take them somewhere in the community.”

Though the services are new, data demonstrates counseling for at-risk students leads to fewer absences and better academic performance. Massachusetts schools using Gosnold counselors say their students are performing better academically and emotionally. Sarah Nadeau says this is the case for her girls.

“Their day runs smoother. They can get out their anxiety while they’re in school instead of bottling it up, and then go back to class and continue learning,” she told NPR.

Each participating school pays Gosnold for the counselors, and students’ insurance covers the individual sessions. If a student does not have insurance or it will not cover the cost, Gosnold absorbs that cost. Currently, more than 50 schools in Massachusetts offer such services. 

“I wish that more schools offered it because the epidemic is everywhere,” says Sarah Nadeau. “For a lot of these kids, school is the only place that is stable. They get their lunch here, they get their education here, so why not give them their support while they’re here at the school?”

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