Part of a $3.4 million grant to provide behavioral health and substance use intervention services in Central and Western Massachusetts schools, CHD has partnered with West Springfield Middle School (WSMS) to begin implementing its new Youth Navigating New Heights program.
Building upon an existing partnership between CHD and West Springfield Schools, the New Heights program will provide comprehensive clinical assessments, interventions, and community-based support services to youth at WSMS, including at-risk youth, and their families to help them develop important skills that lead to positive, lasting change.
Funded by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Department of Public Health (DPH), the program will provide a range of behavioral health supports to students and families in need, especially those affected by substance use and emotional and conduct challenges.
As the impact of COVID-19 continues to affect the community and students in West Springfield have been learning from home, levels of stress and anxiety among students and their families remain high. Along with anxiety, increased stress caused by COVID-19 can lead to increases in alcohol and substance use, and cause disruption to treatment for persons in recovery from substance use disorder.
CHD Chief Program Officer Katherine Cook explains that, for youth, being under this level of stress due to changes related to learning, coupled with their own enhanced anxiety and that of others in their home, can greatly impact a young person’s own ability to make healthy behavior choices. This is especially true when young people experience or are exposed to substance use at home or in their community.
“Young people today are experiencing unprecedented stress due to the uncertainties of this pandemic and exposure to substance misuse will certainly affect their mental health. This potentially traumatic experience may prevent them from learning and from developing positive skills,” Cook said.
“Young people today are experiencing unprecedented stress due to the uncertainties of this pandemic and exposure to substance misuse will certainly affect their mental health. This potentially traumatic experience may prevent them from learning and from developing positive skills.”
Katherine Cook, Chief Program Officer, CHD
“Being able to identify students at risk through a screening or brief intervention might address the problem before it even begins in terms of the student’s own use,” Cook added. “Then, our ability to identify students at risk of experiencing substance misuse allows us to connect youth and their families to necessary supports.”
Through the New Heights program, CHD will position a master’s level clinician and a full-time youth community support person on campus at WSMS. Together, this team will serve as a resource to WSMS, working directly with faculty and administrators to provide comprehensive clinical assessments and interventions, and to help connect youth and their families with community-based supports to develop positive and lasting change.
“The partnership with CHD allows more WSMS students to access needed supports, which includes group peers support, at a time where adolescents naturally struggle with risk taking behavior,” said Jennifer Brennan, director of social-emotional learning at WSMS. “The pandemic has exacerbated students’ anxiety; the need for positive connections can be a major protective factor. CHD can not only support students but also their families.”
Young people receiving services will learn and develop skills related to distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness and be able to identify ways to make healthier lifestyle choices for themselves despite what may be going on around them. Other skill building activities will target the development of life skills like money management and emotional self-care.
Through community-based outreach, New Heights staff will identify a student’s ability to make positive and healthy decisions while identifying the support and treatment needs of their family. As students return to in-person learning, services will include in-school groups, peers support, in-person and virtual mentoring and engagement, as well as COVID-safe tutoring afterschool and summer programming. Parent and family outreach and education will take place both virtually and in-person.