Most of us are concerned when we hear of a credit card data breach in a store or company where we do business. Many parents are also troubled about academic and social-emotional behavioral online assessment data collected about their children in school.
But what about your child surrendering their personal and sensitive information in an outsourced, online, school therapy session?
Some public schools are using online mental health, occupational, physical, and speech therapy services. Teletherapy involves linking a distant clinician to a client for assessment, intervention, and/or consultation.
This raises all kinds of quality and privacy concerns.
- Who’s the clinician?
- Where did they go to school?
- Do they have an adequate degree?
- Where are they living?
- Do they have huge caseloads?
- How are they paid?
- Is it about school budget cuts?
- How is privacy addressed?
- Who sees the information?
- Where is the information stored?
- Will it follow the student forever?
- Who’s monitoring how online therapy is handled in school?
Here is the ad for eLuma who provide these services to schools across the country. Whether you are looking for Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), or Counseling (Psychology, Social Work, Behavioral Intervention, etc), there’s never been a better time to get them.
They describe this as “benefits.”
Once the services begin, you’ll discover a wide range of benefits. With an array of features, the eLuma platform and caseload management system will enable the therapists to reduce their indirect time by as much as 25%. At the same time, stakeholders will be able to easily track, monitor and report on student progress in real time giving you total transparency & accountability.
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a trusted organization for teachers and parents, recently did a webinar featuring eLuma.
While they emphasize something called “blended therapy.” The title of the CEC webinar is “Reinventing Special Education.”
Online therapy is also called telehealth, telemedicine, or telepractice.
Outsourcing such a serious part of a child’s schooling seems to be about privatizing public education.
It’s difficult to know how much the real counselor will be involved.
There’s also emphasis on transformation.
They claim a number of respected organizations are onboard for online therapy. But it isn’t so clear-cut. Most of those on their list describe rules and requirements for the legal and ethical use of online therapy.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has a lengthy description of the conditions they believe best for online therapy. They also describe licensing requirements for each state. They include a video on the eLuma website, but it talks about online services for home. The ASLHA also has a position paper about teletherapy called “Addressing Shortages in Schools via Telepractice” that you can download. They list the following concerns: cost, lack of professional standards, reimbursement policies, lack of efficacy data, licensure, patient confidentiality, and liability.
- American Physical Therapy Association also describes how teletherapy can be used, but they don’t mention public schools.
- American Occupational Therapy Association has a list of additional links of information, but nothing about schools. Occupational therapists sometimes assist students in special education.
- American Psychological Association stress the legal and ethical use of online therapy. In 2009, they didn’t sound like they thought this was a great idea. What made them change their minds?
Online therapy might be helpful if one lives in a rural area with no services, or if an individual is not able to see a therapist in person, for whatever reason.
There’s no research to indicate that online therapy is best in school. Most parents expect public schools to have counselors and school psychologists.
However, parents must be informed. School districts that sign on to online therapy of any kind, should get parental permission from parents before it is used with their child!
The primary concern of online therapy is privacy and concerns of a data breach. Also, what happens to the information after the therapy session? Will it follow the student into adulthood? Once a child’s information is put online it’s difficult, if not impossible, to remove it.
Allan Schwartz is a LCSW, Ph.D. and was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who blogs about this issue in reference to adults. He says: Unless the online therapy is encrypted there is a danger that private information can quickly become public.
I remember when a student’s information was stored in a locked file cabinet. You had to sign in and get the key. That key was never to be removed from the guidance office. A child’s personal information was treated with great care.
Public schools owe students the right to privacy when it comes to their personal information.
They should also provide children with qualified counselors, school psychologists, speech therapists and other service providers that aren’t on a screen.
Special thanks to Cheri Kiesecker of the Missouri Education Watchdog Blog for information pertaining to this post.
Thank you for writing this article. Online speech therapy provided by schools is a nutty idea similar to when school districts hire an unqualified speech therapy helper except even worse because there is no control over what happens to a child’s data.
If a school district is writing effective measurable annual goals for a child who has an IEP, does online speech therapy help the child to catch up to typical peers? Services should be evidenced based.
Roy Turrentine says
This seems almost satire on the face of it. What kind of therapy can be administered by a screen? April Fools is a month or so off.
Chad Gundry says
This article is missing the facts, among many other things. Special Education Directors and State/National leaders are well aware of these concerns and ARE NOT concerned anymore because of how teletherapy is administered and delivered. Every single one of these questions can be answered by research and real application. This is nothing more than a scare article, lacking any real substance. Teletherapy is effective and used by thousands and thousands of students on a daily basis with great results. The technology is secure of course, it would be crazy to do it otherwise. And yes, there is well documented research that backs the efficacy of online therapy.
Nancy Bailey says
Would you mind sharing the research you mention (“great results”) as it relates to public school students? And if you could answer the questions with the real evidence that will be helpful too.
I am a fair blogger. So I will not shy away from objective information.
The concern is that teletherapy will replace real counselors in our public schools.
As a former special ed. teacher it is difficult to imagine doing any of this work online as effectively as personal counseling.
Please also tell us how the data is secure.
Jo Lieb says
Just the security issues are too alarming to consider online therapy. But what is to keep unscrupulous entities from hacking the program and abusing young people?
And why would anyone prefer one on one counseling to screen to screen counseling?
No, teletherapy is not a good idea in 2019.