CAJE Creates First-in-Nation Process to Address Youth Mental Health Crisis
Posted on 06/17/2022 @ 06:00 AM
WHOEVER SAVES A SINGLE LIFE…
is considered by scripture to have saved a whole world.
(Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a)
I imagine each of us would answer: Almost anything!
That is exactly what CAJE’s Associate Director of School Markets, Audrey Maman Bensoussan, has done.
Over the last four years, she has worked long and hard to save the lives of our teens by shepherding a process that is finally coming to fruition… and right in time to respond to our youth mental health crisis, exacerbated by Covid-19.
In the coming school year, every (funded) Jewish day school in Miami-Dade County – even our hareidi schools— have agreed to put up placards or signs in private areas within their middle and high schools (such as bathroom stalls) that lists a dedicated phone number that teens can call or text for anonymous and confidential assistance.
This phone number connects to a 24-hour Jewish Community Services (JCS) hotline with counselors specially trained to address youth mental health issues.
CAJE is so grateful to our many community partners involved in this process— first and foremost, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation -- as well as JCS, and JAFCO, in addition to our wonderful day school leadership.
We urge you to continue to read about all the trail-blazing, entrepreneurial steps we have taken below…
About four years ago, tragedy struck in one of our Federation-funded schools. A child, who had been allegedly expelled from school and was home for a couple of months, took his own life.
When Audrey read about this child’s death, she wept, along with so many others, and then jumped into action. She consulted with me, her supervisor, and we analyzed the options. She reached out to the principal of the school in question.
And then Audrey took it upon herself to undertake the arduous process of creating a community solution involving many others.
She decided to put together a Family Resource Protocol, with the goal of averting another tragedy in the future.
As part of the Family Resource Protocol, she invited JAFCO’s Clinical Supervisor, Jessica Califf, and Clinical Team Leader, Shea Pucci, to give the day schools teachers and administrators one-hour presentations entitled Trauma-Informed Care for Educators.
The presentation covered the various types of trauma, abuse, and neglect as well as the symptoms and signs to look out for, the potential effects, and the different approaches an educator can take when faced with this type of situation.
Through her efforts, CAJE also started convening a new network of 17 school counselors/psychologists from Miami funded schools that we called the Youth Mental Health Network.
The goal of this new network is to give the school counselors/ psychologists the opportunity to safely and confidentially share situations happening in their respective schools and get advice and suggestions from their peers.
Shea Pucci from JAFCO noted:
“These meetings offer a tremendous opportunity for all of us to support one another and find ways to better support our children and families with the various resources we each have in our repertoires. I feel confident we will make a positive impact on a multi-systemic level as a team.”
One of the key functions of a CAJE or “central agency” is to convene and network education leaders and implement programs and initiatives that only a “central agency” can do on behalf of the entire school community.
After the establishment of the Youth Mental Health Network, Covid-19 hit our communities and mental health issues became even more critical.
With four children of her own, Audrey began to notice more anxiety, stress, and lack of social interaction among them and their peers.
She turned to the network and its chair, Reina Chocron, a counselor at Scheck Hillel Community School, to discuss what approaches might help.
Together they determined that some children may not feel comfortable talking with people they know at their schools and see every day, if they are wrestling with suicidal ideation, extreme anxiety or identity issues.
And the counselors, as well as Audrey, were hearing from teens who were telling them that their friends were reaching out to them for help, but they didn’t know what to do to support them.
It was at that point that Audrey reached out to Carly Orshan, Director of CAJE’s Teen Department, to consult with her about peer-to-peer training to address this mental health crisis.
Simultaneously, the network began working on creating language for a placard that could be placed in a private area of middle and high schools, such as inside a bathroom stall, similar to what JCS had done with its Shalom Bayit initiative to support victims of domestic abuse.
For months, the counselors and Audrey wrestled with finding the right language and gaining consensus from all the heads of school until they determined this below:
Audrey notes: “We wanted to make sure that our children deeply feel that we care about them and what they’re going through. That we see and hear them. The training we are doing with schools and the placards we will be placing there are all designed to bring them help if they need it, and if they aren’t ready for it now, then it’s waiting for them when they are. The main thing is they should know someone is out there ready and willing to listen and help them.”
Recently, our Greater Miami Jewish Federation has established a Youth Mental Health Task Force chaired by local businesswoman Elise Scheck Bonwitt and Michelle Labgold, Chief Planning Officer of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, which will continue to explore ways in which our community can address this youth mental health crisis.
Together with our community partners, CAJE looks forward to training our educators, our teens, and our parents in how to best support our youth to find safety and calm in an anxious world and one day, if needed, save the life of a child.