Nearly 300 child crime victims being helped through new AISD mental health clinics

Austin

Happy and healthy: Two words Sarah Luna Newcomer, 20, never used to describe herself a few years ago when she entered high school.

“I was already having a really hard time,” said Newcomer. “I was self-harming. I was having suicidal thoughts.”

A teacher at Crockett High School picked up on the pain while reading one of Newcomer’s poems, took it to administrators and told them she needed help. That’s when she started seeing a psychological therapist, Elizabeth Minne, at Crockett’s mental health clinic. She credits Minne for saving her life.

“She took me from — if someone hadn’t talked to me I was going to be six feet under — to now. I am a completely productive member of society,” said Newcomer.

Minne is now the executive director of Vida Clinic, a mental health provider partnering with the Austin Independent School District to run clinics on 22 elementary school campuses located in high crime zip codes across the city. All of the campuses feed into Lanier High School, Akins High School and LBJ Early College High School.

“This is something we have put our heart and souls into for many, many years,” said Minne.

Therapists with Vida Clinic are offering intense therapy specifically for children going through trauma as a result of a crime like child abuse, sexual assault and homicide.

The program is being funded through a $4.5 million grant from the Governor’s office KXAN first reported on in December 2017.

Minne says children experiencing trauma often shut down and isolate, or demonstrate really aggressive or disruptive behavior in the classroom and at home.

Newcomer says she was also sexually assaulted as a child, and is happy to hear more children will have access to therapy earlier on in their education. 

“It can really save them,” said Newcomer. “I know for years I’ve struggled with it and the fact that I wasn’t able to get help when I really needed it.”

Austin ISD data shows its high school students who have been treated by mental health experts on campus have better grades, behavior and attendance than students not receiving the treatment.

Austin ISD and Vida Clinics launched mental health services on the elementary campuses at the end of February. In the first month, therapists and social workers have already served nearly 300 children. 

Teachers and parents are also part of the process and work as a team in a child’s recovery. 

Austin ISD plans to add clinics to 30 more elementary and middle school campuses that feed into Travis High School, Reagan High School and Eastside Memorial High School by 2020.

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