(Courtesy of JFCS of Northern NJ) A recent KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows there has been a 25.5 percent increase in children exhibiting mental health issues (anxiety and depression), with an “alarmingly high” number of attempted suicides among high school students. This paints a grim picture, but it also frames our work. With a combination of compassionate professionals, innovative techniques, and professional training, we are doing everything we can to raise awareness and offer treatment for children who are struggling to adapt to our ever-changing world. In addition to working within our office, we have taken our work out into the community, where an opportunity exists to bolster social-emotional development and problem-solving skills, the building blocks of mental wellness.
Take our recent foray into the Bergen County school system. Our very own Catherine Estes (LSW, psychotherapist) has been working very closely with 3rd-5th graders on a variety of topics and skills: developing healthy friendships, becoming great listeners, and collaboration. By all accounts, the children have received this program with eagerness and enthusiasm; this group has had problems in the past with fighting, and it is clear that they themselves are willing to do what it takes to create a more peaceful environment.
Just a few weeks ago a teacher told us what she observed during recess: “The students were playing and there was a dispute among them on whose turn it was to use the colored pencils. I was amazed, stunned, and overjoyed all at the same time to hear one of the students repeat almost word for word what Catherine had taught them about conflict resolution. A few weeks ago, a disagreement like this would have started a fight; I have no doubt. But the students were able to resolve the issue on their own using the skills they learned from their JFCS counselor.”
We’re overjoyed as well. But reversing the daunting KIDS COUNT findings is not an overnight process. We need to ensure our youth are headed down the proper path early on. That is why, now more than ever, we are advocating for mental health interventions for our young school- aged children. As the teacher above will attest, the students want it and it works.
To learn more about JFCS, donate, volunteer, or request services, please visit jfcsnnj.org or contact us at [email protected] or (201) 837-9090.