CAJE Launches New Day School Mental Health Network

Posted on 11/26/2021 @ 07:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

After nearly two years in which their lives were upended, students are finally beginning to return to some normalcy this school year. Yet, the effects of learning online, the anxiety of missing major life milestones, and the isolation from peers and extended family have all taken their toll.
Last year, Audrey Maman Bensoussan, CAJE’s Associate Director for School Markets, introduced the Family Resource Protocol in which, among other steps, each school communicates the names of families whose children have been expelled or counseled out of school to CAJE so we can help them with the next steps on their journey.
The Family Resource Protocol is now under the umbrella of CAJE’s new Mental Health Network, which is made up of close to 17 school counselors and psychologists from our 10 funded day schools.
The goal of this network is to give its members the opportunity to safely and confidentially share real-life situations, determine overlapping needs, discuss potential professional development opportunities, and advocate for resources within their schools and within the larger community.
One of the other benefits of establishing this network is to highlight various resources available to our schools and be able to address issues of importance to students and families that schools might find difficult to manage alone.
In October, the Network was introduced to Eshel Online, whose mission is to open hearts, minds and doors for Orthodox lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, and their families through its innovative and culturally sensitive programming.
Members of the Mental Health Network were asked to watch a movie titled, Marry Me, However [which premiered in the Miami Jewish Film Festival last year] that follows the lives of Orthodox men and women in Israel who were urged to get married by teachers and parents even after expressing hesitations only to come to the realization that they were gay or lesbian. Years later, they were all divorced, effectively upending their own lives, blindsiding their spouses’ lives and of course, affecting their children’s lives as well.
CAJE then invited Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Founding Director of Eshel, and Miryam Kabakov, its Executive Director to meet virtually with the Network and discuss whether and how Miami’s funded schools currently respond to children or teens facing gender identity issues and/or questioning their sexual identity.
Shortly, after the meeting, CAJE received an unsolicited email from a psychologist in one of our Hareidi schools. She mentioned how appreciative she was to be in a network with a group of her peers where she can feel safe discussing topics that are still taboo in her community. She went on to say how wonderful it was that she was given this opportunity for professional development enabling her to enhance her craft and she looked forward to watching the movie and discussing it afterwards.
She felt it was very helpful to know where else students and their families can get support if they need more outside the school. Furthermore, she was very happy to hear about Eshel, an organization working hard to get Orthodox shuls and community members to be more open to LGBTQ members.  
As a community, Miami is far from being the leading edge on this issue. In a groundbreaking move last year, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis released the first-ever guide for the Wellbeing of LGBTQ+ Pupils in Orthodox schools, declaring a zero tolerance policy for bullying or homophobic language and offering guidelines to educators on offering support and affirming LGBTQ+ students according to the online magazine Them.
The plan for the Mental Health Network is to continue to addressing topics related to child and teen mental health so that each school psychologist and counselor will be up-to-date on the best resources available in our community locally and nationally so we can best support our children, teens, and their families.