explorations php

 New MCIU Program Offers Missing Mental Health Supports to K-6th Grade Students 

Partial Hospitalization Program Bridges Gap Between School and In-Patient Care 

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania – Responding to a critical gap in mental and behavioral health services, the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit (MCIU) has opened a school-based partial hospitalization program for students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade (ages 5 – 12) who are struggling with mental and behavioral health challenges. The only such program of its kind in Montgomery County, “Explorations” will serve as a transitionary step for students leaving mental health hospitalization before they return to their school. It can also serve as a preventative program for students who would otherwise have to be admitted into full mental health hospitalization. Experts say the nation’s youngest students have a pressing need for mental and behavioral health treatment that is simply not being met. 

School-based Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) have been very successful across the country in providing critical supports to help children transition from in-patient care. In Montgomery County, they have only been available through the MCIU for students in grades 7 – 12 since 2011. 

“For years, school districts have been seeing an increased need for mental health services, especially with our youngest learners, and the pandemic has only made it worse,” said Norristown Superintendent Christopher T. Dormer. “Students require more service and support than districts can provide through its psychologist, counseling, and social work services. MCIU’s K-6 Explorations program will provide a vital service that will allow school districts to be part of ensuring a student’s mental health needs and educational needs are both met, as well as ensuring a smooth transition back to our classrooms.” 

Housed in MCIU’s Early Learning Academy in Norristown, Explorations Elementary School-Based PHP focuses on stabilizing a student’s emotions and teaching them acceptable behaviors. Students will receive at least three hours a day of behavioral health treatment and up to three hours a day of education, based on the individual needs of the student. Each child receives a combination of individual and group therapy, family therapy, social skills and anger management, psychiatric evaluations, and psychiatric medication management. They also receive at least three hours of support and instruction from PA-certified special education teachers. 

“In recent years, we have seen an increase in young children who are victims of trauma or suffering from mental health challenges who would benefit from being placed in a partial hospitalization program,” said Souderton Area School 
District Superintendent Frank T. Gallagher. “The problem is that there are simply very few choices in the region. Explorations has proven to be effective for children in middle school through high school. We need a similar program for elementary school-aged children.” 

Explorations officially opened in August, with enrollment underway. It has the capacity to accommodate up to 20 students. The program runs from 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. MCIU’s middle and high school Explorations PHP program continually runs at capacity, and mental health experts anticipate the new elementary program will fill quickly. Students typically spend six to nine months in a PHP, but length of stay varies based on each student’s individual needs and progress. Referrals are accepted from parents, school personnel, inpatient hospitals, medical professionals, mental health clinicians, courts, and Magellan Behavioral Health Services. 

Other counties with similar programs have received county mental health department support that allows the program to be covered by insurance. Without a letter of support from Montgomery County Office of Public Health, this K – 6 program cannot receive funding through commercial and/or medical assistance. At this time, the new MCIU program is funded solely by the school district in which each student resides, at a cost of $385 per day. The Explorations program for students in grades 7 – 12 has received support and is eligible for insurance reimbursement. In Pennsylvania, the following Intermediate Units offer elementary-level PHP’s: Blast IU, Chester County IU, Carbon-Lehigh IU, Colonial IU, Luzerne IU, Allegheny IU, and Bucks IU (opening in January 2022). 

“Youth suicide risk has been on the rise for the last two decades, with mental health issues including depression and anxiety, often beginning in the elementary school years,” said local licensed psychologist/suicide prevention expert and author Dr. Terri Erbacher, “Easy access to effective treatment is one of the greatest barriers youth face, particularly when more intensive treatment is needed. This highlights the significant need for school-based partial hospitalization programming at the local level. MCIU’s new partial hospitalization program will help meet this need and has the potential to mitigate future suicide risk for these young children.” 

For more information on Explorations PHP, please contact Dr. Brittany Lourea-Waddell at 610-755-9433 or bwaddell@mciu.org.