Tarleton developing center to address area mental healthcare shortage

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STEPHENVILLE (April 17, 2019) — A new center offering psychological consultations and behavioral health resources for children and their families is taking shape at Tarleton State University after the federal government designated Stephenville as having a provider shortage for mental health services.

When it opens in the fall, the Tarleton Center for Child Well-Being hopes to provide prevention, psychological and consultation services at a reasonable cost by utilizing supervised trainees in service delivery. The center will be a training site for a variety of graduate and undergraduate endeavors, providing internship opportunities and a research environment for both faculty and students.

Spearheaded by licensed psychologist Dr. Stephanie Robertson, a licensed psychologist and licensed specialist in school psychology, the Center for Child Well-Being is a collaboration between Tarleton’s departments of PsychologicalSciences, Social Work, Educational Diagnostics and Counseling. It has been in the works for two years and is patterned after a similar program at Florida State University.

“This will connect Tarleton with local school districts, medical providers and other community organizations to provide evidence-based psychological and behavioral health resources that are easy to access and understand,” Robertson explained. “Early onset of child mental illness is predictive of lower school achievement, an increased burden on the child welfare system, and greater demand on the juvenile justice system.”

Annual economic cost tops $240 billion, she said, citing the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Based on the number of practitioners per capita, Texas meets only 45 percent of its mental healthcare needs. Further, according to federal data, approximately 24 percent of the Erath County population lives below the poverty line, and 5 to 18 percent of Stephenville-area young people lack healthcare coverage.

Children around Stephenville are directed to the Fort Worth-Dallas area for psychological evaluations. Waitlists can exceed a year, Robertson said.

“The ratio of mental health service providers to residents is 1 to 78, and many school districts in Erath and the surrounding counties are too small to employ full-time psychologists. When complicated psychological profiles emerge in their students, difficulties may arise. The best way to reduce the impact of mental health disorders is by identifying and treating them early.”

Robertson has received seed money from Tarleton’s Center for Transformative Learning and the College of Education Dean’s Innovation Grant, with plans to approach off-campus sources. Offering contract-based services will generate some revenue. The aim is to help families regardless of their ability to pay.

“Our goal is to implement services using a public health model that emphasizes prevention through broad delivery of ‘universal’ interventions designed to serve the needs of 80 to 90 percent of the population. Universal interventions might include web-based and print materials, community screening events, and implementation of social or emotional learning programs.”

Services will include parent support groups, psycho-educational workshops with local businesses, educators and medical providers, and group therapy, along with individualized sessions involving psychological evaluations, psychotherapy and case consultations. Long term, the center wants to develop a program that is sustainable, scalable and can be replicated.

For more information, contact Dr. Stephanie Robertson at srobertson@tarleton.eduor 254-968-9813.


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