School-based health care improves access and use for teens

September 12, 2023

With the school year now back in full swing, Venice Family Clinic’s school-based staff are also back to welcome students who need care.

Whether it’s helping with mental or physical health, the Clinic is dedicated to making quality health care accessible by providing it from within three public schools whose student populations often struggle with access to such care.

Venice Family Clinic provides on-campus medical and behavioral health care, as well as health education, at Culver City Middle and High Schools through Sandy Segal Youth Health Center. At Santa Monica High School, the Clinic provides medical care and health education, alongside other organizations that provide mental and behavioral health care. Our Carole Keen Carson Wellness Center at Carson High School offers medical care to students and community members alike, with mental health care for students provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Carson patients who are members of the public have access to the comprehensive care Venice Family Clinic offers, just like any other patient of the Clinic.

Meeting students where they are

Dr. Saya Yusa provides care for anything from minor injuries to chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes, but most of her adolescent patients see her for family planning and sexual health services, as well as physicals required to participate in sports. She is on site two days per week each at Sandy Segal Youth Health Center and Santa Monica High School.

“School-based health centers provide better access to care because they’re in a place where students are already going every day,” Dr. Yusa said. “The centers are also a good way to screen teens for ACEs [adverse childhood experiences] and provide a warm handoff to behavioral health care if needed. School-based care is crucial for the mental and physical health of young people’s futures.”

De-stigmatizing mental health care

At Sandy Segal Youth Health Center at Culver City Middle and High Schools, Venice Family Clinic behavioral health staff are on site five days a week. Therapists offer both individual and group therapy for students who are experiencing different life stresses, including changes in family dynamic, such as the incarceration of a family member; death of a loved one; exploration of sexuality and gender; immigration concerns; or shifts in self-esteem. Staff here also work with students who have stress and anxiety over academic performance, as well as students experiencing depression and isolation, which have been on the rise ever since the pandemic began.

Maria Jarquin, LCSW, PPSC-SSW, who oversees the behavioral health program at Sandy Segal Youth Health Center, said the integration of mental health care in schools helps to promote buy-in from students and their caregivers.

“When the support is coming from school, it helps to normalize that discussion,” she said. “If you need help with math, you could get resources for that from your school; now you can do the same with mental health.”

This model is paying off: Since Venice Family Clinic began providing behavioral health services at Sandy Segal Youth Health Center full time four years ago, referrals from school counselors, staff and teachers have increased every year, with a 61% increase in the 2022-2023 academic year.

Jarquin likes how involved Culver City Middle and High School caregivers are in their children’s mental health care. While therapists maintain confidentiality with their teen patients, they also make sure to get parents and caregivers involved as much and as early as possible, giving them tools to make sustainable, positive change at home for their child and family.

“I’ve been working in school-based mental health care for many years, and I’ve never had an experience like the one I’ve had at Sandy Segal Youth Health Center – where students refer friends for care. Students will also come to us concerned about their friends and ask that we check on them,” Jarquin said. “It’s a testament to the strength of the school community and the trust they have in the program we have built here.”

Being a trusted resource

Health educators are on site at Sandy Segal Youth Health Center and Santa Monica High School one to two days per week to complement our behavioral health and medical care by providing in-depth education on just about any topic a student needs or wants to learn more about.

Our health educators check in with students when they come in for a medical appointment and have one-on-one sessions to give them information on anything from nutrition and weight management to how birth control and menstrual cycles work. During the course of these conversations, students might also talk about their living situations or relationships with family, friends or significant others. That’s when a health educator could refer or make a warm handoff to behavioral health care or another resource, such as Venice Family Clinic’s free food markets for students experiencing food insecurity.

“I love that we have a clinic at school,” said Health Educator Kelly Ayllon, who works two mornings a week at Sandy Segal Youth Health Center. “Students may not feel comfortable asking their parents about certain things. We’re here to be a trustworthy source of information so students don’t feel like they have to rely on the internet, especially when it comes to something as important as sexually transmitted infections or birth control. We’re providing that education so students can make more informed decisions.”

Because of the successes of our school-based care in areas where the need for quality health care is high, Venice Family Clinic is exploring opportunities to expand this important work, making care more accessible and helping to build more healthy communities.


Note: Parental consent is required for physicals and routine health exams. By law, teens may seek confidential services for birth control, pregnancy testing and mental health emergencies. Our clinicians must and do report any case where they suspect child abuse or neglect.