For Larimer County Sheriff’s Deputy Brendan Solano and licensed clinical social worker Maryann Ramos Flynn, each day they spend working as co-responder team members in Thompson School District is unpredictable. Still, they all have one thing in common: They provide a unique opportunity to advocate for youth.
Providing support for the approximately 15,000 students in Thompson School District requires the work of hundreds of staff members, including the collaboration of people with all different areas of expertise. Thompson School District’s inaugural co-responder team is one of the best examples of how effective cooperative work can be.
As a sheriff’s deputy, Brendan has worked in schools as a school resource officer and is trained in working with students who are struggling with mental health issues. Maryann works for SummitStone Health Partners and has spent most of her career working with young people.
Since last November, Brendan and Maryann have been Thompson School District’s first co-responder team, handling crises in our schools. The two contract with the school district through a program designed to partner with various stakeholders in the community to help students in need of mental health support. While Brendan can address the law enforcement aspects that sometimes arise with more severe incidents, Maryann provides support as a mental health professional.
“Our biggest success is to be advocates for students,” Maryann explains. “We are unique in that co-response is a relatively new program in Colorado. It’s only offered in one other school that I know of. Kids have always deserved this service, and now Thompson School District is a leader in saying how much they care about kids. They are addressing it by providing this service to their kids.”
Brendan and Maryann are based in the district Administration Building but spend much of their workdays responding to calls in schools throughout the district.
“The nation as a whole has discovered there’s an issue with mental health, and a lot of people in crisis don’t know what to do,” Brendan says. “It’s a problem, and we recognize the need.”
In addition to providing schools with law enforcement support, Brendan and Maryann are also trained to respond to students in crisis and help provide families with care that is less limited than what school counselors can offer, including visiting families’ homes and helping students and their families secure assistance through more extensive community resources.
“Our primary focus isn’t the law enforcement – our school resource officers take care of that. We’re more focused on continuing care,” Brendan says.
Maryann agrees that the goal is to connect students to whatever help they need and assist families in supporting their children.
“Our goal is to be able to have kids be in school safely and function at a healthy level so they can be productive members of society,” Maryann says. “Sometimes what the school can provide is limited, and then families don’t know what to do next. That’s been my greatest joy of this job, getting information into families’ hands so they can continue to do the good work of caring for their families. Colorado needs to support their youth.”
When Maryann and Brendan are not busy responding to calls, they do preventative work in schools, talking to students about how the co-responder team can help them and what other resources are available. The pair do not separate during the work day but rather work in tandem to address the multifaceted aspects of situations when students are experiencing crises.
The team has the added benefit of being bilingual, as Maryann is a Spanish speaker whose mother immigrated to the United States. Maryann says this allows the Thompson School District co-responder team to bridge additional gaps that maybe be happening between students and school staff.
“Our youth today are more open to mental health care than ever before,” Maryann says. “We have youth who want to take care of their mental health, and we need to realize that part of whole-person care is addressing mental health needs.”
Often that involves connecting families with outside agencies that can assist them and their students.
“It’s important for them to know we are here to partner with them, not to take over care,” Brendan says. “We do believe that families most times are doing their best and kind of get stuck in how to support their student. We help families get what they need.”