Heidi Quillen: Shields social worker looks after mental needs of students

Special to the Cape Gazette
June 16, 2013
Heidi Quillen is a licensed clinical social worker at Shields Elementary School in Lewes. BY DENY HOWETH

The good news about what Heidi Quillen, a licensed clinical social worker, is doing at Shields Elementary School in Lewes is that she’s in a strategic place. The right place. Full time. She’s been there for 18 years and is well regarded by parents, faculty, administrative and support staff, and most importantly, the K-5 children whose needs she serves.

There is a professional like Quillen in each of the four elementary schools in the Cape Henlopen School District as well as those who serve the mental health needs of students in middle schools and the high school. That is a blessing, all agree, but when people learn that, potentially, Quillen serves the needs of more than 700 children, they wonder how she does what she does, and for so many children. What they learn is that there is a plan in place.

“Not all our work with the children is intensive,” Quillen said. “I serve as coach of a positive behavior support team here. We meet every month and discuss the less-intensive needs of the children.

“We support a positive school climate where all children are taught to be respectful and given the opportunities to succeed in a positive climate. And it’s a team effort, from our Superintendent Robert Fulton, who’s behind us 100 percent, on down.”

Signs of trouble Quillen sees in the children who are referred to her include social problems, acting out, anxiety or depression, poor peer relationships and other needs. Teachers are trained to look for troubled children. Sometimes it’s the parents who observe needs and come to Quillen to talk about what they see in their children.

“We try to help the children adapt to school,” Quillen said. “We provide support. That’s what we are here for.”

Children are the focus of Quillen’s work. They are her target audience. But some parents have mental health needs as well. “I try to refer them to places, services that could help them as much as I can,” she said.

Quillen uses her computer database with parents to provide them with names of resources that can be contacted. And she gives parents phone numbers to call if they have a crisis or urgent mental health situation at home.

According to Quillen, Delaware 2-1-1 is a phone number adults with mental health crisis situations can call to reach a Delaware Helpline, and services are also available through By searching online, adults can find other services available through the Delaware Helpline.

Other nonprofit services such as mobile crisis intervention where someone comes to the home can be reached in Sussex County at 800-345-6785. In a child mental health crisis situation, the Crisis Priority Response Service can be reached at 800-969-4357. It’s a 24-hour service and there is one in every county.

Quillen said she encourages parents to look for signs that mental health counseling for their child could be a need. “These early years are so critical,” she said.

“The children…that’s why I’ve worked here all these years,” Quillen said. “It’s so important to have a good start in life.”

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