By Ebony Grace and Catherine P. Wilson
Out-of-School Time programs are the foundation for supporting student academic and enrichment learning, but are currently not receiving the support needed to adequately address the long-term effects of the pandemic on youth, particularly in low-income communities. resources.
These programs, including after school and summer learning programs, provide the perfect opportunity to support young people who may be struggling with mental health issues. With proper funding, out-of-school programs across the country can seize this opportunity to bring critical mental health resources to young people struggling in a post-pandemic world.
In the United States, more than 107,000 Americans died annually from drug overdose last year. Besides, 88,000 died from alcohol abuse and 47,000 for suicide. Since 2017, suicide is the second cause of death for youth ages 10 to 19. These poor health outcomes are directly related to poor mental health and lack of access to adolescent mental health support and services.
Over the course of the pandemic, youth experienced not only academic learning loss, but also social and emotional isolation. Educators across the country are reporting a higher incidence of mental health problems among students in an already overstretched system of care.
Out-of-School Time programs are already in place to address this overburdened system, serving as supports for working parents and students who may be academically challenged, and often providing a safe place to spend the afternoon with physical activity, food and enrichment support.
After-school and summer learning programs provide a special opportunity for young people to develop a relationship with trusted adults, which has a proven positive effect on mental health. This relationship is necessary for the growth and social and emotional development of young people in their formative years, which are often fraught with challenges.
The pandemic has magnified the challenges facing youth, particularly for youth who do not have access to adequate resources. Youth development professionals are willing and able to provide additional emotional support, but we as a society, sponsors and influential organizations have a responsibility to provide appropriate training and development.
In Newark, United Trail of Greater Newark took this opportune moment to leverage funds raised through the COVID-19 fund to start a project to train youth development professionals in mental health first aid. This project, which also includes a learning community, supported a local program through the Boys and Girls Club of Newark. The trained professionals became part of the Non-School Time program. The Boys and Girls Club now offers its participants access to mental health physicians, services to address mental health issues, and wellness activities to promote resiliency.
This type of program is only possible with private funding, but all out-of-school time programs must have access to the resources necessary to provide this for students, especially in a post-pandemic world.
In addition, youth development professionals should receive training and professional development in Mental Health First Aid, provided by organizations such as the United Way and the New Jersey Coalition for the Care of School-Age Children. That is why we are calling on foundations and the government to invest in more public-private partnerships to address this critical public health issue for our students.
Catherine Wilson is the President and CEO of the United Way of Greater Newark.
Ebony Grace is the Executive Director of the New Jersey School-Age Child Care Coalition.
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