A wellness center isn't your typical school nurse's office. It can feel like a quiet little clinic or therapy practice inside a busy high school. Teens visit wellness centers for counseling, nutrition services and health screenings. Then they can follow up with their primary care doctor.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell recently signed legislation mandating that every high school in the state have such a resource.
The centers are meant to offer behavioral health care to kids who might normally have a hard time accessing those services.
"I think adolescence is particularly the most difficult time for human beings," said state Secretary of Health and Social Services Rita Landgraf. "And this provides additional support, on site, confidential, without the barriers outside of the setting,"
The wellness center model, with its holistic approach, makes good sense from a medical and budget perspective, she said.
"Some of that is in the spirit of early intervention. It not only is the effective way, and a human way, to respond to a behavioral health challenge, but also it tends to be much more cost effective," she said.
There have been a number of behavioral health challenges for Delaware teens recently. In April, Howard High student Amy Joyner Francis died after a fight with classmates at school. A few years ago, the CDC investigated a youth suicide spike in central and Southern Delaware. And children in Wilmington are touched by the city's violent crime rate.
Expansion of the wellness centers isn't a deliberate policy corrective to these challenges, Landgraf said.
However, "the availability of these school-based wellness centers can only support some of the things that we are feeling as a state, especially at a high school level," she said.
With the new law in place, wellness centers will be set up in the three Delaware high schools without them. The state will foot the bill for the startup and operational costs during year one.