The number of children and adolescents in need of mental health services has been soaring in recent years, but many families are still spending months on end waiting to access care. Meanwhile, young people are left struggling in school and slipping into crisis — sometimes ending up in the emergency room or losing their lives.
On Tuesday, Cartwheel — a startup that partners with school districts to provide virtual mental health care — raised $20 million in Series A funds to help address this youth mental health crisis. The Massachusetts-based company, which was founded last year, has now raised $24 million to date.
When it comes to the mental health challenges that young people are facing, schools know they’re uniquely positioned to help, said Cartwheel CEO Joe English.
“They’re trusted in their communities, and kids spend most of their days in school. But no matter how hard they work, school staff don’t have the time or tools to fully meet student needs, and they’re burning out,” he declared.
Cartwheel partners with school districts to provide students with telehealth-based mental health visits. The startup’s clinical team includes therapists, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners. The company also employs care coordinators, as well as program managers — clinicians with school-based experience who serve as the day-to-day contact for each school district.
Students can ask their school counselor or social worker to refer them to Cartwheel. Once the referral is made via Cartwheel’s online portal, a member of the startup’s care team will reach out within two days to schedule a virtual therapy visit, English explained.
Typically, a parent or guardian joins the student on their first and last visit. In between, most students attend weekly 1:1 sessions with their Cartwheel therapist. Students can also access group therapy sessions and medication support, and parents can also meet separately with the care team to discuss strategies on how to best support their child, English said.
This school year, Cartwheel is working with about 50 school districts and charter school networks across Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, he noted.
“We are proud to partner with a wide range of districts and student populations, including suburban districts, larger urban systems, smaller rural districts, and charter management organizations. Districts have really different mental health needs, and we tailor our services to meet those needs,” English declared.
Cartwheel works with both commercial health plans and Medicaid to pay for the care it provides. School districts pay an annual fee that covers services outside of insurance-based care, such as the startup’s technology platform, care coordination, consultations between Cartwheel clinicians and school staff and care for uninsured students, English explained.
“The student mental health needs we’re seeing are so significant that we’re not usually competing with others to support school districts. In fact, we often work together with existing community partners to coordinate and address gaps in care,” English said.
With its new capital, Cartwheel is seeking to partner with more school districts and improve its technology to better meet the needs of school staff and families, he added.
Photo credit: Olga Strelnikova, Getty Images