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Tarrant County students can receive free virtual therapy. Here’s how

A teacher interacts with students during a reading lesson at Florence Elementary.
Courtesy photo
/
Keller ISD
A teacher interacts with students during a reading lesson at Florence Elementary.

Lacreshia Franklin builds connections.

She is a therapist who works with students in Tarrant County and nine other counties through a program called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine. JPS Health Network and the University of North Texas Health Science Center run the virtual program to provide limited and free therapy to students who need mental health care.

“It’s a lot of listening,” Franklin said. “It’s a lot of finding out, ‘Hey, what are your needs? How can I support you?’ It’s being available as much as possible.”

The program started in the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018. The Texas Legislature in 2019 established a statewide child mental health collaboration to oversee and start the telemedicine program.

The initiative expands mental health access to children, said Teneisha Kennard, executive director of outpatient behavioral health ambulatory services. Texas faces a shortage of psychiatrists and clinicians for children’s mental health, she said.

Half of school districts in Texas have no mental health services. Texas also has a higher prevalence of mental health illness and lower access to care for young people than other states, according to the national nonprofit Mental Health America.

The group ranked the state last in the country for mental health access in 2022.

Kennard sees telemedicine therapy as making mental health care more accessible and breaking down stigmas.

“Nobody wonders where to go when your arm is broken,” she said. “That’s the same type of thought process I want to have in the future about all mental health conditions.”

How do students get into the program?

A school counselor or other designated staff member will refer a student to receive virtual therapy — at no cost to their family.

Students receive short-term therapy.

“For many of our students, it ends up that we’re able to resolve their concerns during the course of the short-term therapy,” Kennard said.

The joint JPS-UNTHSC telemedicine program covers 300,000 public, charter and private school students across the western half of North Texas.

In 2023, therapists conducted 3,366 visits with 689 individual students, according to JPS figures. Nine in 10 students attended their appointments.

JPS provides tablets and hotspots to some school districts that may face difficulty in getting additional technology, Kennard said.

What are the therapy sessions like?

Therapist Franklin spends time getting to know her students. They share their screens and play games together or watch videos. Doing that is fun, but Franklin has another reason.

“It opens up that line of communication to where they can feel more relaxed enough to talk or share more and not just have that pressure of having a conversation,” she said.

Sessions are 45 minutes to an hour.

Therapists create a treatment plan for students based on their initial meeting.

Franklin aims for aha moments, instances when everything the student says just clicks and makes sense. The students realize the situations they have gone through and carried with themselves are not their fault.

In those moments, Franklin knows students have been heard and they start to shake their timidness away, she said.

“Those are the little successes that we get to see in the process,” Franklin said.

How are parents involved?

Parents are involved from the start and must give consent, Kennard said. They are part of what Kennard calls the treatment team, which includes the clinicians, the person receiving care and their support systems.

“Whatever takeaways there are from the interactions with us, it’s going to be the family that carries that forward and will identify if a point comes again that they need additional help,” Kennard said.

Parents are involved in the appointments with their children. Younger students will have their parents with them, but teenage students will have their parents talk to a therapist before or after their session, Kennard said.

Therapists educate parents about how to help their children’s mental health. Franklin described that as empowering families with the right information to show them how to work with their schools, how to get special education plans and connect them with additional resources.

Franklin always thanks parents, she said.

“I know sometimes they can carry a lot of guilt just as a parent of, ‘What did I do wrong?’” Franklin said. “It’s like, mom, it’s not necessarily that you did anything at all. We’re just going to work on these issues at this — and we’re going to figure it out together.”

Which schools participate in the program?

JPS Health Network and the University of North Texas Health Science Center operate the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine program in Tarrant County and nine other counties in the western half of North Texas. The program is available in the following traditional school districts and charter systems:

  • Aledo ISD
  • Arlington Classics Academy
  • Academy of Visual Performing Arts
  • Birdville ISD
  • Bowie ISD
  • Boyd ISD
  • Chico ISD
  • Castleberry ISD
  • Christo Rey
  • Crosstimbers Academy
  • Dublin ISD
  • Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD
  • Era ISD
  • Erath Excels Academy
  • Everman ISD
  • Forestburg ISD
  • Fort Worth ISD
  • Garner ISD
  • Gainesville ISD
  • Gordon ISD
  • Grapevine-Colleyville ISD
  • HEB ISD               
  • International Leadership Academy
  • Jacksboro ISD
  • Jean Massieu Academy
  • Keller ISD
  • Kennedale ISD
  • Lake Worth ISD
  • Manara Academy
  • Mansfield ISD
  • Midway ISD
  • Millsap ISD
  • Nocona ISD
  • Northwest ISD 
  • Palo Pinto ISD 
  • Paradise ISD
  • Petrolia ISD
  • Poolville ISD
  • Prairie Valley ISD
  • Springtown ISD
  • Rocketship Public Schools
  • Stephenville ISD
  • Strawn ISD
  • Texas Can Academy
  • Three Way ISD
  • Valley View ISD
  • Weatherford ISD

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via @_jacob_sanchez. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.