Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014
Carol Marks
  • By Margaret Lavin, San Mateo County Times

    We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, when a mentally ill 20-year-old entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 6 women, 12 girls and 8 boys in 11 minutes. Last week, the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate released a report noting, "missed opportunities" by Adam Lanza's mother, the school district and multiple health care providers. It identified warning signs, red flags and other lessons that could be learned from a review of Lanza's life. We as a nation are still grappling with curtailing gun violence and understanding mental health disorders. Whatever your stance on gun control, we can all agree that it is critical to invest in mental health awareness.

    San Mateo County has done just that. Through Measure A funding, they have expanded services and improved the county's overall quality of health care, including mental health programs. StarVista is one of the county's largest nonprofits and they provide a myriad needed services. "The Measure A funding is a huge blessing. It means our services have a reliable funding source because the county has made a commitment to invest in the welfare of children and youth," said Child and Adolescent Hotline and Prevention Program (CAHPP) Director Julie Kinloch. "This is really different from being in the position of worrying whether a program will be around from one year to the next.

    There are so many people who care about children and youth in this county, and work so hard in different ways to make a difference."

    Last week CAHPP celebrated their first birthday and they have some impressive stats to commemorate. They received 434 calls to their hotline, 243 (56 percent) of which were for mental health services. Calls came from parents, relatives, teachers, school counselors, social workers and therapist. Some kids called on their own behalf. "It is always hard to really know the ultimate impact of services for those you are trying to help," Kinloch said. "I would say one way to think about our impact this year is to look at the number of kids we've been able to serve. If most of the calls were from someone concerned about a child or youth, that is lot of people getting resources and input from trained clinicians to help kids in this county."

    They also held 85 community events including presentations to San Mateo County school staff and students on topics like self-harm, stress management, substance abuse and violence prevention. For instance, Narges Zohoury Dillon, marriage and family therapist and CAHPP coordinator, gave a presentation to a youth group (ages 13-18) run by One East Palo Alto. The topic was the effects and roots of violence in schools and communities and how to cope with instances of violence. "One of the discussions was on cyberbullying and ways teens could stand up for their peers who are getting bullied on the Web," she said. "I was very impressed by the teens' level of investment in the discussion and their desire to actively seek solutions for issues affecting them and their peers on a daily basis."

    CAHPP also runs The Lucky Kids Club, a program for children in kindergarten through 6th grade. The program is designed to provide support that will help children develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually so they can thrive in school. "Bringing the program to 310 kids, in seven school districts, in one year's time is something our team is proud of," said Kinloch. "With the Lucky Kids Club, we are providing kids in San Mateo County with a well-researched intervention that has been repeatedly demonstrated to have an obvious positive effect on behaviors connected to success in school. In the short-run that means fewer kids struggling to adjust to the school environment. In the long-run it hopefully means more kids staying engaged in school and making it to graduation, and fewer kids with mental health problems and other adverse outcomes."

    For more information on StarVista, go to www.star-vista.org.