Long Islanders are very lucky to have one of the best public library systems in the country. In Nassau County alone, there are 54 libraries!
When you think of libraries, likely the first thing that comes to mind is (you guessed it) books—and being able to peruse thousands upon thousands of books at your library or at home is certainly a wonderful thing! But libraries offer a wide variety of services, some of which might surprise you.
Libraries are a real treasure for parents, children and teens. Most have preschool story times that foster early literacy, along with music classes and play time. They also have quiet study areas where students can do their schoolwork or meet up with their tutor (who may be a volunteer provided by the library). Many have book clubs for people of all ages, a great way to encourage love of reading and to meet new friends.
Adults and youngsters can enjoy a bunch of entertainment options, as many libraries host movies and music/theater performances. Art exhibits are another popular offering, which gives local artists a chance to exhibit their work. Arts and crafts classes are another popular option.
Libraries are great places to hear experts and take classes on a huge range of topics: preparing wills, tax help, learning Mah Jong, travel tips, writing your memoir, line dancing, yoga, defensive driving, job fairs, computer savvy, saving for college—the list is endless.
These days, most if not all libraries offer computer and internet access, which opens up a world of information to those who may not have access at home, or who may prefer to spend some time out of their house and in the warm embrace of their local library.
Librarians can help you find reference materials (whether paper or electronic) on a host of subjects, from career information to car repair to medical resources to town history—just ask and you will likely be given a great launching pad for your search into numerous interests.
If you love spending time at the library, there are many volunteer opportunities, such as reading to little ones, tutoring, helping new citizens learn English and much more.
So today, which is National Read a Book Day, make a trip to your local library!
Love Learning? Why not share that love by volunteering with the Guidance Center’s tutoring program? Please contact Lauren McGowan at (516) 626-1971, ext. 320, email@example.com.
Here’s a great article on school bus safety, courtesy of safekids.org.
Riding the school bus for the first time is a big step for your child. Help your kids get a gold star in school bus safety by following these tips.
The Hard Facts about School Bus Safety
School buses are the safest way to get children to and from school, but injuries can occur if kids are not careful when getting on and off the school bus.
Top Tips for Riding the Bus
Walk with your young kids to the bus stop and wait with them until it arrives. Make sure drivers can see the kids at your bus stop.
Teach kids to stand at least three giant steps back from the curb as the bus approaches and board the bus one at a time.
Teach kids to wait for the school bus to come to a complete stop before getting off and not to walk behind the bus.
If your child needs to cross the street after exiting the bus, he or she should take five giant steps in front of the bus, make eye contact with the bus driver and cross when the driver indicates it’s safe. Teach kids to look left, right and left again before crossing the street.
Instruct younger kids to use handrails when boarding or exiting the bus. Be careful of straps or drawstrings that could get caught in the door. If your child drops something, they should tell the bus driver and make sure the bus driver is able to see them before they pick it up.
Drivers should follow the speed limit and slow down in school zones and near bus stops. Remember to stay alert and look for kids who may be trying to get to or from the school bus.
Slow down and stop if you’re driving near a school bus that is flashing yellow or red lights. This means the bus is either preparing to stop (yellow) or already stopped (red), and children are getting on or off.
Kindergarten Preparation, Published in Blank Slate Media, August 15, 2022
In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: We have twins, a girl and boy, and both are entering kindergarten in September. This is a first for our family, and we’re not sure if we are doing enough to prepare them, especially since their pre-school experience was limited due to the pandemic. Any advice?
Dear Anxious Parents: You’re not alone in having concerns about your children adjusting to the new routine of “big kid” school. Even before the pandemic, parents often felt anxiety about the transition to kindergarten, but since many families chose to keep their children home while COVID-19 was in full swing, those worries may be magnified right now.
Since many youngsters have been taught to keep their distance from strangers in order to avoid getting sick, they may be more wary of being with new people. You can help reassure them that you, their teachers and others are working together to keep everyone safe and healthy. While COVID-19 has shown itself to be somewhat unpredictable, we are in a far better place than we were a few years ago with preventative measures and treatment, and that information can be imparted to ease your child’s anxiety.
Starting in a new school can be scary under any circumstances, but there are steps you can take to help. If your school allows it, plan to bring your child to their classroom to meet their teacher before the school year begins. Also take them to see the gym, the playground, cafeteria, library, nurse’s office and other locations. Even if the teacher won’t be available, familiarizing your child with the school and the routine will go far in reducing their fears.
Be careful not to put your own fears onto your child. A lot of parents reflect on their own first-day jitters, and they assume their child feels the same way. While a certain level of school anxiety is entirely normal in children, they are also likely to feel excited, so remember to focus on the positive aspects of school, such as making new friends, having lots of time to play and learning fun new things.
Below are some more suggestions to make the transition as smooth as possible:
Some schools help set up late summer playground events for incoming kindergartners. If they do, take advantage of the opportunity for your child to meet some new friends.
Talk about what they are going to learn; make a game of “playing school” by introducing some of the activities that go on in a typical school day.
Bring them with you when you shop for school supplies. Choosing their own folders, pencils, crayons and the like will make the experience feel special.
Get your child on a regular bedtime schedule before school begins so they are accustomed to getting up at the same time they’ll need to awaken for school.
Sit together and make a morning game plan—what are some breakfast ideas, which outfits will they want to wear their first week, and how they will be getting to school. If you can, do some practice runs (or walks) to the bus stop, if they’ll be taking one.
Teach your child their basic contact information, including the correct spelling of their name, their address and their phone number. Also help them practice writing their own names.
Make sure they know how to take their shoes on and off, and also how to zip up their backpacks.
When you give your youngsters a chance to talk about all their emotions and react calmly to whatever they say, it reassures them that everything will be fine. But if your child appears to be highly anxious and expresses reluctance to go to school after the first week or so, consider contacting a mental health professional. The pandemic has impacted children’s emotional well-being in numerous ways, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health organization, is seeing clients both remotely via telehealth platforms and in person, depending on the clients’ needs. No one is ever turned away for inability to pay. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971 or email email@example.com.
Earlier this summer, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center was excited to announce that our Children’s Center at Nassau County Family Court had reopened after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. During that time, almost all court business was conducted virtually, but with more and more children and families returning to in-person court visits, our Children’s Center is a much-needed community resource!
With family court matters such as divorce proceedings and custody cases often very contentious, youngsters can be traumatized if they are in the courtroom. But many parents and guardians don’t have the luxury of leaving their children home.
That’s what makes our Children’s Center at Nassau County Family Court so important. At the Children’s Center, kids from 6 weeks to 12 years old are provided with free care in a nurturing and safe early learning environment while adults are busy in court.
How can you help? We are seeking volunteers at the Children’s Center, which is located at 1200 Old Country Road in Westbury. To volunteer, we request that you are…
16 years of age or older
Fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Able to work a minimum of four hours per week
Comfortable wearing a mask
Willing to complete a NY State background check, including fingerprinting
Able to lift children when necessary and have good mobility
Friendly and nurturing
Volunteering at the Children’s Center is a great way for high schoolers (16 and up) or college students who have an interest in children and education to gain experience! And it’s also a wonderful opportunity for anyone who loves kids to give back and make a difference for the youngsters and families in our community.
It reduces the risk of depression by helping you make new friends and building a support network.
It boosts your self-esteem and helps you develop better communication skills.
Volunteering helps you stay active and engaged with the world, and depending on what kind of volunteering you do, it could even help you stay more physically fit, including lowering your blood pressure!
It exposes you to new experiences, giving you insight into the world around you and all the opportunities that are out there just waiting for your energy and dedication.
It helps reduce stress and loneliness by providing you with a feeling of purpose and connection.
The symptoms of mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and other conditions have been shown to decrease when people volunteer.
Volunteering gives you perspective, helping you realize that there are others in the world struggling with issues, just like you.
By Erika Perez-Tobon, Published in Anton Media Newspapers
One of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s signature programs is the Latina Girls Project, which was created in response to the alarming rates of depression, school refusal, self-harm, suicidal ideation and attempted suicides by Hispanic teen girls.
More than a decade ago, our team at the Guidance Center noticed an increasingly large number of first-generation Latinas were coming to us with severe depression, self-harming behaviors and suicidal thoughts. Many had stopped attending school, and some had been hospitalized for suicide attempts.
The research backed up what we were seeing at the time: Hispanic teenage girls were significantly more likely than their non-Hispanic peers to suffer from depression, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts. More recent research, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that 10.5% of Latina adolescents aged 10–24 years in the U.S. attempted suicide in 2016, compared to 7.3% of white female, 5.8% of Latino and 4.6% white male teens.
In response to this crisis, we formed the Latina Girls Project, an innovative program that employs individual, group and family therapy, along with monthly outings and other activities, all designed to tackle issues such as depression, low self-esteem, social anxiety, school refusal, self-harming behaviors or suicidal ideation.
Some of our clients who were born outside the U.S. have witnessed violence in their homelands, and many have experienced complex trauma since a young age. Those who were born in the U.S. are impacted by the generational trauma experienced by their parents and limitations around communicating with their parents.
Regardless of where they were born, a big part of the reason these girls are struggling is because they are pulled in conflicting directions, with their parents wanting them to adhere to the traditional values of their homeland, while the girls seek to integrate into American culture and find acceptance among their peers.
The result: Parents are often extremely overprotective; they won’t allow their daughters to venture out and participate in activities such as sleepovers, dating or trips to the mall. Even if the teens are allowed to go out with their friends, they are required to have a chaperone, such as a parent or brother. In addition, they are often relegated to gender-biased roles, required to cook, clean and take care of their siblings while their brothers are treated, as one girl said, “like princes.”
During bilingual individual, family and group therapy sessions, the girls realize that they can trust their therapists, many of whom also grew up as first-generation Latinas. The therapists teach the girls healthy strategies to deal with stress and depression and effective ways to communicate with their parents.
For their part, the parents become more compassionate about their daughters’ desire to fit in, and they also understand the need to let their teens separate in age-appropriate ways. One of our Latina clients put it this way: “My parents learned that I just wanted them to be there for me and listen. They learned that it doesn’t help to question why I feel the way I do but to accept it and support me.”
In addition to therapy, the program incorporates monthly supervised outings to places such as theaters, museums and other cultural and educational sites. These trips, made possible by the generosity of John and Janet Kornreich, expose the girls to the world in a way that would never have happened if not for this Guidance Center program. The trips serve to boost the teens’ confidence and sense of independence, and the girls also discover that there’s a great big world of opportunity out there for them, which allows them to feel hopeful about their futures. The trips also offer respite to the parents who are relieved to know that their daughters are in safe hands.
As one girl put it, “The Latina Girls Project helped my mother and I communicate and become very close, and the monthly outings showed me a world I never would have seen. I felt that I wanted to be a part of the larger world. The trips gave me the feeling that I could be truly happy in my life.”
Bio: Erika Perez-Tobon, LCSW, who is originally from Venezuela, is the bilingual Clinical Supervisor of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Latina Girls Project, which is located at the agency’s Westbury location.
A child’s success throughout life can depend on the level of emotional support from parents and caregivers. These suggestions promote positive self-care behaviors that last a lifetime.
Foster Open Communication A weekly family meeting gives every member time to express concerns and address tensions so that issues don’t fester under the surface. Feeling heard and understood is an essential human need and the foundation of solid relationships. Keep to a set time limit and take care not to let disagreements devolve into bitter arguments.
If possible, attempt to have one meal together daily where the emphasis is on being a good listener. Help your kids see the value of listening by demonstrating balanced conversational techniques and teaching them how doing so creates healthy friendships.
Enjoy Recreational Events Help your little ones relax by going to a game of the family’s favorite sports team. Enjoy some tasty treats and pick up souvenirs for treasured lifelong memories. Make it a weekend getaway if you have to travel more than a couple of hours to get to the event. For instance, if you’re wondering how to score Yankees or Mets tickets, search online and sort by date, price range and seat rating. Check the seller’s site for an interactive seating chart to see a 360-degree view from your seats ahead of time. And when you get home, continue the fun by playing catch with your kids!
Unwind with a day at the zoo or a walk in the woods. The natural setting can be a calming form of therapy, but prepare to adjust plans if your child becomes unsettled by specific animals. Read a book or visit a website teaching about the types of animals present to assuage fears.
Volunteer as a Family Instill high moral values in your children by devoting time to assisting others and strengthening the community. At least an hour or two each week should be spent on volunteer activities. Encourage the kids to sign up for helpful groups and earmark time for giving in their personal schedules.
Set a Good Example Model self-care. Study after study confirms that stress is contagious and alters how human brains work, leading to other physical and mental illnesses. Create self-care goals that the family tackles together.
Prevent outside influences from disrupting the peace of the family. Doing so can be especially challenging for business owners, so establish boundaries. Family members must agree to allow you time during the workday to focus on your company without unnecessary distraction. In return, set times where you focus on the family and silence all professional alerts and messages. Relegate intensive tasks to the morning when you’re fresh and can give them resolution before the day’s end. Don’t micromanage the business and delegate mundane assignments where possible.
Consider Counseling A child overwhelmed with stress and anxiety can benefit greatly from regular counseling at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which is now offering both in-person and virtual therapy.
Bottom line: Reducing stress through a variety of means is worth the effort, so collaborate to give your children a self-care routine that helps them refresh, reset and ready themselves for life’s challenges.
Bio: Colleen Stewart loves giving her two kids a healthy example to live by. Her passion for community and wellness inspired her and her husband to team up with their neighbors and create a playgroup that allows the adults and their kids to squeeze in a workout a few times a week. She created Playdate Fitness to help inspire other mamas and papas to make their well-being a priority, and set a healthy foundation for their little ones in the process.
As Reported in Insight into Diversity, “This July marks the 14th annual observance of BIPOC Mental Health Month, previously known as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The observance comes at a critical time as concerns regarding psychological and emotional well-being are at an all-time high for young people and students, especially those from underrepresented communities.”
An ample collection of research on Mental Health America. has demonstrated that the educational, economic and social turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the epidemic of anxiety and depression among youth. For young people of color, these repercussions have been magnified by racial violence and discrimination. Yet this population is less likely to seek out psychological support services due to “the high costs of mental health care, the social stigma associated with seeking treatment, a lack of access to culturally competent counselors and a general mistrust of medical professionals.” (Insight Staff, 2022)
Mental health conditions are not selective based on race, color, gender or identity. The obstacles of mental illness can take hold of anyone regardless of their background or history. However, background and identity can make the availability of mental health treatment much more challenging. As reported in SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), “America’s entire mental health system needs improvement, including when it comes to serving marginalized communities. This puts BIPOC youth at a serious disadvantage. For example, Black and Latinx children were about 14 percent less likely than White youth to receive treatment for their depression overall and were less likely to receive treatment in inpatient settings” (SAMHSA, 2020). Furthermore, The Trevor Project identifies that “LGBTQ+ youth from American Indian and Alaskan Native backgrounds were 2.5 times more likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year, compared to their non-Native LGBTQ+ peers.” (The Trevor Project, 2020).
There has been progress taking hold to improve the resources and support for minorities’ mental health, such as The Children’s Partnership and the National Black Women’s Justice Institute partnering together to establish the Hope, Healing and Health Collective (H3C). It says on their site that their “aim is to expand the availability and accessibility of culturally competent and gender-responsive mental health services and supports for youth of color, particularly Black girls, Indigenous youth and Latina girls.” (The Children’s Partnership, 2021) Unfortunately, behavioral health services are underutilized in marginalized communities despite the obvious need for them. The reasons why youth and adults of color do not participate in traditional mental health service include limited access, social stigma, misgivings about the effectiveness of treatment and distrust of providers.
Schools are proving to be leading the charge in providing support of BIPOC youths’ mental health. A study in the School Psych Review says that “youth are six times more likely to receive mental health care in schools compared to other community settings.” It also states that “In considering what serves young people well, schools must pay greater attention to how building power through youth organizing and leadership development supports positive mental health, builds on community strengths and supports developmentally driven needs for identity development that is reflective of their race, culture, gender and sexual orientation.” (Nadeem, Jaycox, Kataoka, Langley and Stein, 2011).
Historical and community traumas have also brought on disturbing patterns in children experiencing mental health crises. Patterns are exacerbated for youth with several marginalized identities, including their gender identity, sexual orientation and their race or ethnicity. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports, BIPOC youth have found that, through social media, they are not alone in their mental health experience and journey. It takes a lot of courage and strength to consciously unlearn and destigmatize mental health as a young member of the BIPOC community. Youth are redefining what mental health means and are trying to discard some of the negative stigmas that have been taught or demonstrated by older generations. BIPOC youth are also advocating for themselves and actively working to change the way their communities acknowledge and embrace mental health.
Bio: Alex Levitt is a senior at Farmingdale State College, where he is majoring in Professional Communications. He is an intern for North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s preeminent children’s mental health organization. To reach the Guidance Center, call 516-626-1971.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the preeminent not-for-profit children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is pleased to announce that Michael Schnepper has joined its board of directors.
Schnepper, a Partner in Rivkin Radler’s Commercial Litigation, Insurance Coverage and Insurance Fraud Practice Groups, is a longtime supporter of the Guidance Center’s mission to bring hope and healing to children and families facing mental health challenges.
For nearly a decade, Schnepper has served as co-chair of one of the most important of the Guidance Center’s annual fundraising events, the Jonathan Krevat Memorial Golf & Tennis Classic.
“We feel extremely fortunate to have Michael joining us,” said Paul Vitale, president of the Guidance Center’s Board of Directors. “He has been a vital force in making the Krevat Cup a huge success year after year, and he approaches the role with enthusiasm, creativity and a wonderful sense of humor. We have no doubts that he will bring that spirit to his work on our Board.”
“It’s a real privilege to become part of the dynamic team at the Guidance Center,” said Schnepper. “The past few years have been an enormous challenge for the kids and families of Long Island, making the need for compassionate, expert mental health services more important than ever before. I look forward to working with the dedicated board members who give so much of their time and devotion to this amazing organization.”
To learn more about how to support the Guidance Center’s work, contact Lauren McGowan at 516-626-1971, ext. 320.
Interview with Marisa Padgett, LCSW, conducted by Alex Levitt
“These kids are trying to live a life that is authentic to what is going on inside of them, and when loved ones reject them, that is detrimental to the kid’s mental health and self-esteem.”
In what ways do you see changes when it comes to acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth in society?
Marisa Padgett: It’s interesting because I recently talked to a 12-year-old boy here who identified as gay. I was speaking with the grandmother, and she was worried at how society at large will accept him. While she accepts him, she has her fears. We were talking about how acceptance has changed a lot in the last 10 to 20 years. I remember that when I was in high school, most people were not out. It was getting more accepted, but not how it is now.
I don’t worry as much about the kids with their peers, but more when they are out in the community. I think it has gotten better, but there is still a long way to go. In some ways, now it is more divisive than ever. I think that people are very hard-lined where they stand, either one way or another. While the LGBTQ+ community is growing, and we have things in place for pride and a lot of support for the kids in this community, there are people out there who are rejecting and intolerant, and they skew toward hate just for hate’s sake.
Middle school kids can also be very vocal and put down kids for any reason because that’s kind of where they are in life, developmentally. Also, generational issues surface a lot – for example, “My mom gets me, but she says don’t tell my grandparents that I’m transgender.” There is still a lag generationally. There can also be a shift in a relationship between a kid and loved ones after coming out. When the reality of it hits the parents, some have a hard time reconciling this new information about their kid’s identity.
How can we build an atmosphere of inclusion, regardless of our personal or religious views?
MP: We tell families that when a child comes out, this is who they are; they are not different people. What you think about a person before you found out they are gay, transgender or non-binary is still true because they are still that same person. There are many layers to people. Recognizing this is important for the families and for the society at large in becoming more tolerant. Look at people as people who are living their lives and their identity, and recognize it is not something they are choosing. We try to help parents understand they are not choosing this because in truth, it is a hard path. Having to deal with the prejudice, intolerance and the outright hate out there is immensely difficult.
Asking yourself what if it was your child, sister, brother or parent is a helpful exercise. If it was someone that you love deeply, would that be any different for you? Also, if an LGBTQ+ youth is not accepted by their peers, maybe they need to hang out with different people. A club like GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance] has done wonders for giving young people a space of acceptance. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, absolutely, but that should not affect how other people should be treated in society.
What are the mental health challenges facing LGBTQ+ youth, and how can loved ones can be supportive?
MP: We are seeing a lot of young people dealing with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. I think it is a result of the fear of not being accepted and the way that the people closest to them will respond. It’s a very different thing if they are not openly LGBTQ+, but they almost know that their parents will not accept them. They’ve heard the way their parents talk about it, or for instance say their cousin came out and they heard their parents’ talk negatively about it. These kids are aware and have an idea already of how their parents are going to react. They might be out to their friends, but having to hold that in and not being comfortable with who they are in front of their parents causes a lot of tension.
Coming out must be handled very sensitively. Parents need to figure out how to respond to their teen, especially if they are already depressed or having suicidal thoughts. An issue with those who identify as transgender and non-binary is they have come out and the parents won’t accept them or use their pronouns. I tell the kids that if their parents are trying that’s good, but when parents refuse, that’s where the friction happens, and the kids struggle with mental health issues. These young people are trying to live a life that is authentic to what is going on inside of them, and when loved ones reject them, that is detrimental to the kid’s mental health and self-esteem. It’s like saying, “It’s not okay to be who you are”. Kids can attempt to take their lives over this.
What services does North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center provide LGBTQ+ youth to help them?
MP: There are basic services we provide like individual and family therapy. We build an LGBTQ+ group every fall once we have enough clients. Every therapist here is understanding and aware of LGBTQ+ issues. As a supervisor, I educate my team and make sure they are all very aware and sensitive and supportive. We do the family work and help the parents with the issues that they themselves are struggling to accept and understand for the child.
During the intake process, we ask the child in private if they want to address their sexual orientation or identity in treatment. In addition, we ask if their parents know and if they want them to know. You don’t want to assume anything. Making them comfortable to open up is vital to treatment.
Bio: Marisa Padgett, LCSW, is Clinical Supervisor of Emergency, Triage & Suicide Prevention Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-626-1971, ext. 367.
Bio: Alex Levitt is a senior at Farmingdale State College, where he is majoring in Professional Communications. He is an intern for North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s preeminent children’s mental health organization. To reach the Guidance Center, call 516-626-1971.
Research on LGBTQ+ Youth
LGBTQ+ identified individuals have a 2 to 6 times higher lifetime risk of suicide and/or depression than the general population.
The concept of “dual alienation” is the idea that individuals who belong to more than one marginalized group are doubly marginalized. Individuals with mental health issues who identify as LGBTQ belong to at least two traditionally marginalized groups.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24— and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning LGBTQ+ youth are at significantly increased risk.
The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that Jennifer Rush has joined the organization as Associate Executive Director. Ms. Rush will be reporting to Executive Director/CEO Kathy Rivera.
Ms. Rush began her career at the Foundation for Childhood Development in NY as a research assistant, where she explored case studies of how systems support children to reach their full potential. She has a diverse operations background in medical, educational and community-based services, including hospital and substance abuse settings at Northern Berkshire Healthcare and the Brattleboro Retreat.
Most recently, Ms. Rush was the Vice President of Residential and Clinical Services at Berkshire County Arc in Pittsfield, Mass., where she oversaw all residential services, including the autism outreach services program and the brain injury services program. repeated “With more than 28 years of leadership experience in nonprofit, residential and health care settings, Jennifer has extensive experience working with adults, children and families in mental health and substance use,” said Kathy Rivera, Executive Director/CEO of the Guidance Center. “Her impressive level of knowledge, skill and expertise sets the stage for continued growth and expansion of the Guidance Center and will help strengthen our services across the agency.”
“I am excited to have returned to New York to work at the Guidance Center and find ways to further support the agency’s mission of bringing hope and healing to children and families,” said Ms. Rush. “I am also eager to support the Guidance Center’s incredibly dedicated employees who provide their clients g with compassionate, high-quality services that truly save lives.”
Ms. Rush, who holds a B.A. from Barnard College and a Master of Health Care Administration from Seton Hall University, moved from the Berkshires region of Massachusetts to Long Island’s North Shore in May 2022. “My two college-age children and our golden retriever are all making the transition,” she said, “and in a very short time, we are all already feeling at home.”
By guest blogger Alex Levitt, to be published in Anton Media July 1, 2022
I grew up as a sensitive kid. So much so that when my elementary school gave out superlatives to graduating 5th graders, the one I received was most self-aware. Growing up, I viewed my sensitivity as a weakness, a clear marker that separated me from my peers and gave high stakes to any social interaction I happened to find myself in. I didn’t really understand why I felt so different from other kids my age. Most seemed to wade through childhood keeping their head above water, impervious to insults and not getting bogged down in their own self-image.
Middle school is when I had my first depressive episode. It was the summer going into 8thgrade, and I got blindsided by a special brew of anxiety for the future and a persistent inner critic that wouldn’t give me any time to myself. Another wrinkle added to my situation was that my anxiety made me sick to my stomach so I could not keep down any food I ate.
This first dance in the waters of depression lasted about three weeks, which seems like the most minor of blips compared to the length of time I have been depressed since then. I have lost count of how many times depression has darkened my door. When my symptoms re-emerged, it was dispiriting because I convinced myself I was past it and would never “regress” in that way.
Yet, I don’t regret any of it. It has made me stronger, surer of myself, and—most importantly to me—compassionate about other’s hardships. Through the trial of adversity, I decided to choose growth. Not that this was easy. My biggest hurdle was bypassing my own stubbornness. I had to take my experiences and view them as a chance to better myself instead of beating myself up over my perceived “weakness.”
Mental health awareness and ending stigma is very important to me. Not just because of my own exposure, but because of the many friends and family members I have seen affected by various mental health issues. I continue to meet so many amazing and brilliant people who suffer internally because of something out of their control.
My experience and that of others made me curious about what mental health services were offered at my school, Farmingdale State College. I saw that there was one-on-one counseling on campus, but there was a lack of specialized services or peer support groups. In spring of 2021, I was part of the Student Government Association (SGA) at Farmingdale, and each semester a Senator is required to present his/her own resolution with the goal of improving services for students on campus.
I couldn’t think of a better idea than to center my resolution on expanding the mental health services on campus. There used to be more student resources for this, but the pandemic had limited those services and had yet to return in full force with options for the students. My resolution was aimed at addressing the addition of more support groups for students to discuss issues they were experiencing during the school year, and to cover a wider range of mental health concerns, such as social anxiety, depression, addiction and other mood disorders.
It got passed on the Senate floor, but it still took a while for the changes to be instituted. Luckily, a fellow Senator helped things progress further this past fall by adding his own resolution calling for more mental health services, which in effect expanded upon my resolution. This past spring, I saw flyers and even an electronic sign in front of campus advertising support groups for students, whether for anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.
There is always more to be done, but it is important that we fight to give those suffering a place where they feel they can be heard and that they are not alone.
Bio: Alex Levitt is a senior at Farmingdale State College, where he is majoring in Professional Communications. He is an intern for North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s preeminent children’s mental health organization. To reach the Guidance Center, call 516-626-1971.
In 2021, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center continued to respond to the mental health challenges among our youth, which the U.S. Surgeon General deemed a true crisis. While the pandemic exacerbated these challenges among children and teens, the rates of suicidal thinking, depression, anxiety and other issues have been on the rise for well over a decade.
In our Annual Report, we give you an overview of the year that was, including a rundown of our programs and services; success stories and letters from our families; and a special feature focusing on two of our most important programs: the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project and the Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services.
We could not provide these lifesaving services to the community without the support of all our treasured donors, including you.
Thank you for allowing us to bring hope and healing to the children and families of Long Island.
There may be no scarier words for a parent to hear from their child than “Some days I just don’t think I can go on any longer,” or a similar sentiment. The reality is that children and teens are under more stress than ever, with suicidal thinking and actions on the rise over the past decade. Moreover, the isolation and fear surrounding the pandemic has created a dramatic increase in severe depression and anxiety.
But even before COVID-19 upended our lives, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center was responding to the crisis in suicidal thinking and actions among young people with two initiatives focused on saving lives: the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project and the Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services.
Answering the Call
In 2021, the Guidance Center experienced a substantial increase in referrals from schools, pediatricians, hospitals and others. Those entities know that we promise to see urgent cases within 24 to 48 hours—an unheard-of response time, when most families are faced with waits of weeks or even months to get help for their children.
In fact, recent stories in the New York Times and other sources report that suicidal children and teens often wait in emergency exam rooms for days or even weeks to access urgently needed treatment. Both inpatient and outpatient mental health services, even when a situation is clearly an emergency, are in extremely short supply.
By contrast, when an urgent call comes into the Guidance Center, our most senior triage clinicians and their team members assess each individual case, working collaboratively with the family and child to create a treatment plan that provides the care these vulnerable children and teens need to begin on the road to healing.
We address all high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk; multiple sessions of individual, group and family therapy each week for as long as is needed; and an individualized treatment plan that focuses on safety strategies and healthy coping skills.
A key element in the creation of a safety plan is a list of prioritized coping strategies and sources of support that children and teens can use during times of crisis. We have found that this is an essential process to help engage our high-risk clients during a most vulnerable time.
We also provide educational seminars, both in person and via webinars, on suicide prevention, so that parents, students, medical professionals and school administrators learn to recognize the signs and know what resources are available to them, including our services.
Treating the Whole Child
The Guidance Center team knows the importance of treating our clients with a holistic, expansive approach, so our clinicians work closely with the family, schools and other entities to explore whether the systems in place are a good fit for the child.
Some of our young clients have suffered with extreme bullying, academic failure, lack of support in their schools and other traumatic situations. To address all of a child’s emotional needs, we advocate for more support services, whether it means securing additional accommodations in the school, offering a different setting that is more therapeutic or providing case management for the family.
Our clinicians are a lifeline to kids and parents, providing emotional support, state-of-the-art clinical services, community resources and concrete steps that enable them to move beyond despair and hopelessness so they can envision a truly bright future.
Donors Make the Difference
Without the generosity of Ellen and Donald Feldman, who funded the program in honor of their son, and the trustees at the Fay J. Lindner Foundation, our lifesaving services would not be possible. To them, and all of you who donate to support the Guidance Center, we are profoundly grateful.
To learn how to support our work, contact Lauren McGowan, Director of Development, at LMcGowan@northshorechildguidance.org, or call 516-626-1971, ext. 320.
On a rainy Thursday evening last spring, a 15-year-old girl was rushed by her parents to the emergency department at Boston Children’s Hospital. She had marks on both wrists from self-harm and a recent suicide attempt, and earlier that day she confided to her pediatrician that she planned to try again.
At the E.R., a doctor examined her and explained to her parents that she was not safe to go home.
“But I need to be honest with you about what’s likely to unfold,” the doctor added. The best place for adolescents in distress was not a hospital but an inpatient treatment center, where individual and group therapy would be provided in a calmer, communal setting, to stabilize the teens and ease them back to real life. But there were no openings in any of the treatment centers in the region, the doctor said.
Indeed, 15 other adolescents — all in precarious mental condition — were already housed in the hospital’s emergency department, sleeping in exam rooms night after night, waiting for an opening. The average wait for a spot in a treatment program was 10 days.
The girl and her family resigned themselves to a stay in the emergency room while she waited. But nearly a month went by before an inpatient bed opened up.
The girl, being identified by her middle initial, G, to protect her privacy, spent the first week of her wait in a “psych-safe” room in the emergency department. Any equipment that might be used for harm had been removed. She was forbidden to use electronics — to keep her from searching the internet for ways to commit suicide or asking a friend to smuggle in a sharp object, as teens before her had done. Her door was kept open night and day so she could be monitored.
It was “padded, insane-asylum-like,” she recalled recently in an interview. “Just walls — all you see is walls.”
She grew “catatonic,” her mother recalled. “In this process of boarding we broke her worse than ever.”
G’s story describes one of its starkest manifestations of the crisis. Across the country, hospital emergency departments have become boarding wards for teenagers who pose too great a risk to themselves or others to go home. They have nowhere else to go; even as the crisis has intensified, the medical system has failed to keep up, and options for inpatient and intensive outpatient psychiatric treatment have eroded sharply.
Nationally, the number of residential treatment facilities for people under the age of 18 fell to 592 in 2020 from 848 in 2012, a 30 percent decline, according to the most recent federal government survey.The decline is partly a result of well-intentioned policy changes that did not foresee a surge in mental-health cases. Social-distancing rules and labor shortages during the pandemic have eliminated additional treatment centers and beds, experts say.
Absent that option, emergency rooms have taken up the slack. A recent study of 88 pediatric hospitals around the country found that 87 of them regularly board children and adolescents overnight in the E.R. On average, any given hospital saw four boarders per day, with an average stay of 48 hours.
“There is a pediatric pandemic of mental health boarding,” said Dr. JoAnna K. Leyenaar, a pediatrician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the study’s lead author. In an interview, she extrapolated from her research and other data to estimate that at least 1,000 young people, and perhaps as many as 5,000, board each night in the nation’s 4,000 emergency departments.
“We have a national crisis,” Dr. Leyenaar said.
This trend runs far afoul of the recommended best practices established by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that helps set national health care policy. According to the standard, adolescents who come to the E.R. for mental health reasons should stay there no longer than four hours, as an extended stay can risk patient safety, delay treatment and divert resources from other emergencies.
Yet in 2021, the average adolescent boarding in the E.R. at Boston Children’s Hospital spent nine days waiting for an inpatient bed, up from three and a half days in 2019; at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora in 2021, the average wait was eight days, and at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, it was six.
Emergency-department boarding has risen at small, rural hospitals, too, with “no pediatric or mental health specialists,” said Dr. Christian Pulcini, a pediatrician in Vermont who has studiedthe trend in the state. “There is one clear conclusion,” he told the Vermont legislature recently. “The E.D. is not the appropriate setting for children to get comprehensive, acute mental health services.”
Doctors and hospital officials emphasize that adolescents should absolutely continue to come to the E.R. in a psychiatric emergency. Still, many emergency-room doctors and nurses, trained to treat broken bones, pneumonia and other corporeal challenges, said the ideal solution was more preventive care and community treatment programs.
“Frankly speaking, the E.D. is one of the worst places for a kid in mental health crisis to be,” said Dr. Kevin Carney, a pediatric emergency room doctor at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “I feel at a loss for how to help these kids.”
‘Actually a good day’
The challenge was evident one day in late February when Dr. Carney arrived for his shift at 3 p.m. The children’s hospital has 50 exam rooms in its emergency department, which fill with patients who have gone through an initial screening and need further evaluation. By midafternoon, 43 of the rooms were full, 17 of them with mental health cases.
“It’s breathtaking,” Dr. Carney said as he stood in the hallway. “Forty percent.”
On clocking in, Dr. Carney had inherited a block of 10 exam rooms from a doctor who was clocking out. “Seven are mental health issues,” Dr. Carney said. “Six are suicidal. Three of them made attempts.”
The adolescents who were deemed to be at physical risk to themselves or others could be readily identified: Their exam room doors were open so they could be monitored, and they wore maroon-colored scrubs instead of their own clothes. No shoelaces, belts or zippers.
Throughout the day, staff members at the hospital had called eight inpatient facilities in the region, looking for available slots in treatment centers where the 10 young boarders, as well as 17 other adolescents boarding at three smaller Colorado Children’s Hospital campuses around the state, could be placed.
One of the adolescents waiting in Aurora, a Denver suburb, was a 16-year-old who had been stabilized after attempting suicide and who needed a residential treatment spot. “But there are no beds,” Jessica Friedman, a social worker, said she had told the family.
“I have eight or nine conversations like this a day,” Ms. Friedman, standing in the hallway, told a reporter; so far that day she had had only two. “This is actually a good day.”
Standing nearby, Travis Justilian, a nurse and the interim clinic manager in the emergency department, said the flood of boarders “is crushing our staff.” He added, “We’re fixers and we’re sitting here doing nothing but watching them watch TV.”
Colorado is struggling with the same shortage of services that has hit hospitals nationwide. The state has lost 1,000 residential beds serving various adolescent populations since 2012, according to Heidi Baskfield, vice president of population health and advocacy for Children’s Hospital Colorado. The state closed one 500-bed facility, Ridgeview, which served at-risk young people, in 2021 because of instances of poor quality and abuse. Another facility, Excelsior, closed its 200 beds in 2017 because reimbursement rates were not high enough to support ongoing operations, the chief executive officer said at the time of the closing.
A major cause, Ms. Baskfield said, was the low reimbursement rates paid by Medicaid, the state insurance program. From 2006 to 2021, the daily Medicaid rate in Colorado allotted roughly $400 for a therapeutic residential bed — “less than some families spend to send their kids for a night to sleepaway camp,” Ms. Baskfield said.
The low rates also accounted for some of the quality issues, she said; it was hard to hire experienced staff. (In the past year, Colorado has raised its reimbursement to $750 per day by using money from the American Rescue Plan, but new beds have yet to open, and that source of money is temporary.)
Lisette Burton, chief policy and practice adviser for the Association of Children’s Residential and Community Services, a nonprofit advocacy group, noted that, nationally, the closure of facilities and the loss of beds was the result of many factors, including a well-intended, decades-long effort to keep foster children and other children out of institutional settings. But the intended substitutes — more nimble and specialized treatment options — were never funded and remain largely unavailable, she said.
Then came the pandemic, amplifying labor shortages and introducing social-distancing and quarantine guidelines that reduced the capacity for patients. “Demand went up, supply went down,” Ms. Burton said. “Now we’re in full-blown crisis.”
On that February day in Colorado, one inpatient bed finally opened up. It happened to be in the 12-bed inpatient ward of Children’s Hospital Colorado, just a few minutes’ walk from the E.R.
The ward’s hallways are wide, the walls painted light green and the lighting bright, to instill a feeling of comfort and calm. Each bedroom has windows looking outside and, next to the door, a glass panel enabling hospital staff to discreetly peer inside.
In a small communal room, four adolescent girls in maroon scrubs sat on blue chairs and couches. One listened to headphones and sang aloud to the soundtrack to “Encanto.” Another worked on a jigsaw puzzle of the sea. Two others chatted with a counselor.
The emergency department “is just a collection of rooms where patients are expected to stay in their rooms and comply with rules,” said Lyndsay Gaffey, director of patient care services at Children’s Hospital Colorado. In the inpatient ward, she said, the aim instead was to stabilize patients by having them work through trauma, receive therapy and interact with peers.
But they must be closely watched here, too. When a reporter rested a pen on a countertop, a staff member swept it up. “You cannot have this here unless it is on your person,” she said. “If a patient walks over and grabs it, it can basically be used as a weapon.”
How to Help Teens Struggling With Mental Health
Recognize the signs. Anxiety and depression are different issues but they do share some indicators. Look for changes in a youth’s behavior, such as disinterest in eating or altered sleep patterns. A teen in distress may express excessive worry, hopelessness or profound sadness.
Approach with sensitivity. If you are seeking to start a discussion with a teen who might be struggling, be clear and direct. Don’t shy from hard questions, but also approach the issue with compassion and not blame.
Get the correct diagnosis. Find the right doctor for your child by asking for recommendations. Ask the specialist about her experience treating specific conditions in children and the measurement tools she uses to make medical assessments.
Carefully consider medications. Press doctors on their experience treating children with specific drugs and make sure you understand their side effects and interactions with other treatments, as well as how to tell if a medication is working and how hard it is to wean off of it.
Don’t forget the basics. Young people, with developing brains, need eight to 10 hours of sleep to promote mental and physical health. Lack of sleep can interfere with development, and can dramatically impact mood. Physical activity is also vital.
Is it safe to go home?
In severe cases of mental distress, emergency-room doctors can compel an adolescent to board in the E.R. until inpatient services become available, however long that takes. Often, parents opt to return home with their child, to try to manage there while waiting for a treatment opening. But that option requires family and doctors alike to work through a difficult question: Is the adolescent safe to go home?
In early February, a 12-year-old boy, J, was struggling toward an answer at the emergency room of the Highlands Ranch campus of Children’s Hospital Colorado. (He is being identified by his first initial for privacy reasons.)
He had arrived that morning with his mother, after she discovered that he had been searching the internet for ways to commit suicide. Over the course of his day in the E.R., he was asked several times how safe he felt to go home. The mother recounted one exchange:
“Do you think you can go home?” the doctor asked.
“What’s the other option?” J asked.
“You’d be in the emergency room.”
“I can go home with my mom,” J said. “But if I feel like I’m going to kill myself, what do I do?’”
“You’ll come back to the emergency room,” the doctor replied.
J’s mother took him home and “hid every medicine and every knife,” she said. J wanted to get help and asked her that first night: “So can I start tomorrow?”
No, his mother told him, he’d have to wait. Sixteen days went by before a spot for J opened in an intensive treatment program. She watched her son around the clock. “It was the scariest two weeks of my life,” she said.
The longest wait
For adolescents like G, who stayed in the emergency room of Boston Children’s Hospital last spring, the experience can be wrenching.
G lives in a Boston suburb with a teenage brother, father and mother. The family has a history of anxiety and depression, the mother said, but G had been a happy and adventurous child. In middle school she started talking back and acting somewhat obsessively, behavior that her mother figured was typical for a teenager.
What G’s mother did not know was that her daughter had been cutting herself for two years, since seventh grade, before the pandemic began. “I cut with literally anything I could find — hockey cards, pipe cleaners, paper clips, anything,” G said. She described the self-harm as a “coping mechanism” to deal with inner pain. She hid the activity “with sweaters, hoodies, foundation.”
As the pandemic set in, G withdrew, and her grades fell. “Then came April 29,” her mother said. “We had a life before April 29 and a life after April 29.”
That day, she picked up G at school for a routine visit to the pediatrician. As G got into the car, her mother saw the marks on her wrists.
At the emergency room, G told the medical team she had tried to overdose a few weeks earlier and had regretted the next morning that she was still alive. In the exam room, she noticed a container of hand sanitizer. “I told them, ‘I’m thinking about drinking this,’” G recalled.
Admitting to her pain and self-harm provided her “with kind of a little bit of relief,” she said. “After two years of cutting and trying to kill myself, I was finally going to get some help. But I didn’t really get help.”
That first night, she was moved for safety reasons to a room that contained just a bed and, for her mother, a rollaway. With the door open, sleeping was difficult. “A sitter was literally staring at my kid,” G’s mother said. “It felt demoralizing.”
Mother and daughter played Uno, Go Fish, checkers and Connect Four. G, anxious and awake, received Ativan on three of the next four nights, then was prescribed Trazodone for chronic anxiety.
Boarding night after night in an emergency department can overwhelm some adolescents, said Dr. Amanda Stewart, an emergency room pediatrician at Boston Children’s. One day this February, she was treating an infant with a respiratory infection when she heard screaming. It came from a 12-year-old boy with attention-deficit disorder and autism who had threatened suicide and was boarding down the hall.
“Other patients started escalating,” Dr. Stewart recalled. “One of them, across the hall, started hitting her head against the wall.” The girl, 15, had entered the E.R. after a suicide attempt and had been calm until that point.
Dr. Stewart said that some teens tell her that boarding in the emergency department intensified their suicidal urges. “I’ve heard that from kids many times,” she said, recalling that they will say: “‘I’m not going to tell you next time, because it means I’m going to have to come here again.’”
Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, a child psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that adolescents do, in fact, receive some treatment while boarding in the emergency department, including basic counsel aimed at “crisis stabilization” that is “all geared to safety.”
“Boarding is not a great thing, but it’s still care,” Dr. Ibeziako said. “We’re not just putting a kid in a bed.”
Kid on fire
May 7 arrived — G’s eighth day in the emergency ward — and still no inpatient beds were available in the region. But a bed did open in the hospital, upstairs in the pediatric medical unit; this room had a window and a private bathroom, and a caregiver who watched G around the clock.
She “was very, very, very depressed and dejected,” her mother recalled. “She didn’t even cry anymore.”
Finally, 29 days after G arrived, a bed was located for her at an inpatient facility in an outlying suburb. She spent a week there but did not find the experience all that helpful.
“We learned the same coping skills over and over,” she said. Over the summer, she worked a fast-food job, but she continued cutting herself, she said, and did a better job of hiding it.
In the fall, she told a counselor at school that she planned to kill herself; she was quickly re-admitted to the same inpatient unit, given priority as a former patient, and spent two weeks there. When her stay ended, G went into an intensive outpatient program. But a counselor there told her mother that G needed more intensive care because she had described a plan to kill herself.
“They told me, ‘This kid is on fire, she’s too acute to be here,’” G’s mother recalled. This time, the family went to the emergency room at a different Boston-area hospital, Salem Hospital, where G boarded only one night and, this time, was lucky to get a bed in that hospital’s inpatient unit, where she spent three weeks, until mid-October.
G’s mood these days is “better than it was, but it still sucks,” she said recently. And, she added, “I’m better at covering things up more.”
“Once people ask you a question, ‘Do you feel suicidal,’ you have to say nope,” she said. “You can’t tell them anything or they’ll send you to the hospital.”
Matt Richtel is a best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter based in San Francisco. He joined The Times in 2000, and his work has focused on science, technology, business and narrative-driven storytelling around these issues. @mrichtel
By Kathy Rivera, published in Anton Media, May 27, 2022
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is known throughout Long Island as the preeminent mental health organization for youth and families, providing individualized, culturally sensitive therapeutic services that serve to bring hope and healing to those experiencing mental health challenges. For nearly 70 years, the Guidance Center has been listening to your needs and concerns, and responding swiftly and compassionately. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to share with you some important information on our offerings.
As we told you in our April Anton column, we shifted to a hybrid model of service within days of the pandemic’s beginning, seeing clients both in person and via a secure telehealth platform.
But if you picture the work of the Guidance Center as taking place only inside our three buildings or via a virtual platform, with a counselor and client sitting in an office or communicating via a smartphone or computer, think again. Many of our innovative programs happen beyond our walls, in places that range from state parks to schools to homes.
The Guidance Center’s Wilderness Respite Program, now in its 23rd year, provides a unique opportunity for at-risk adolescents to put down their tech devices and participate in hikes and other nature activities that help them gain confidence and make lasting friendships.
Nature takes a leading role in our two Organic Gardens, located at our main headquarters in Roslyn Heights and our Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center in Manhasset. By weeding, seeding and tending to the crops, kids blossom as they learn important skills such as self-confidence, cooperation and responsibility.
The Guidance Center also has a Nature Nursery, where our youngest clients use all their senses as they touch pinecones or paint on an outdoor “canvas.” The textures, sounds and sights help children explore their creative sides and learn skills to help cope with difficult feelings.
In addition to therapy, our Latina Girls Project incorporates monthly outings to places such as theaters, museums and more. These trips boost the teens’ confidence and sense of independence and help them discover the larger world. In 2019, the trips expanded to include outings for boys that also have been a huge success.
Students from 5-21 who’ve had a hard time succeeding in school have a great alternative with our Intensive Support Program (ISP), held at three Nassau County B.O.C.E.S schools. There, they receive academic help and counseling, with therapists on site to help them flourish emotionally and academically.
We also work in Westbury high school and middle school with our Teen Intervene and Too Good for Drugs programs, designed to prevent substance and alcohol use.
For children and teens who need our help but can’t come to our offices, the Guidance Center provides intensive in-home therapy with our Clinical Care Coordination Team (CCCT). CCCT aims to lessen acute symptoms, restore clients to prior levels of functioning, and build and strengthen natural supports. Through CCCT, our goal is to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, hospitalizations and residential placements.
Our Coordinated Children’s Services Initiative (CCSI) supports families with the coordination of services in their homes and communities, identifying and accessing resources, providing advocacy and helping children and families gain the skills and tools needed to be self-sufficient.
Through our Family Advocate Program, parents who have been through mental health crises with their own children are trained to offer peer support for families by joining them at special education meetings, offering support groups and providing many other resources.
As you can see, the Guidance Center is always thinking “outside the box,” creating innovative programs that meet the needs of the community and enhance the therapeutic value of all our services. We are here for you!
Bio:Kathy Rivera, LCSW,is the Executive Director/CEO of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading non-profit children’s mental health organization. To get help for your child or to support the Guidance Center’s lifesaving work, call (516) 626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.
Having a child on the autism spectrum brings about an array of emotions. You have your good days and bad days. You probably already know that certain experiences, like moving, require careful consideration and understanding. If you need pointers to help make your upcoming move as smooth as possible, spend a few minutes reading the following guide presented by North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center.
Make the Experience a Positive One
Your child may struggle with change, especially sudden changes. Let your kid know as soon as you can that you’re planning to move. Introduce the subject calmly. Explain to your child why you’re moving and how wonderful the experience can be. Incorporate your child in the moving process as much as possible, such as by helping pack boxes.
Use this information to determine how much you can spend on a home. Look into grant programs that may help you with the cost of home modifications for children with autism.
Consider choosing a house with a fenced-in yard, or think about hiring a fence installer to add one. Make sure you look at schools and parks in the area, too.
Make a Calming Space for Your Child
You’re probably already experienced a number of meltdowns during your time parenting your autistic child. These emotional outbursts are a reaction to too many stimuli.
By creating a calming space in the new house, your child will have an area they can go to when the world becomes too much.
Think about your child’s sensory needs. You’ll more than likely want light-blocking curtains. Walls should be a light color, nothing too bold, dark or bright. Gather a collection of sensory toys, such as water beads or fidget toys.
Declutter and Clean
As you’re in the process of moving, make sure you’re decluttering and cleaning as you go along. You’ll make life simpler by reducing clutter. Not only can clutter make you feel overwhelmed, but it can also affect your child negatively as well.
As you sort through the items, get rid of duplicates or anything you haven’t used in a year. If you notice something has collected dust, it’s probably safe to toss it. Considertaking photos of nostalgic items rather than keeping them all.
If you notice you have an upholstery stain that you’ve unsuccessfully battled using store-bought cleaners, contact a professional upholstery cleaner to contend with the blemish. You’ll reduce your stress so you can focus on your child, you, and the move.
As you’re searching for an upholstery cleaner, look online for reviews to compare. Choose a few that have the highest ratings and schedule meetings. Make sure you discuss your needs and get quotes. Ask for referrals from previous clients. As a general rule, you should avoid companies that use all-in-one cleaners.
By following some of these tips, your child will have a much easier time moving—and so will you!Bio: Jenny Wise created Special Home Educator as a forum for sharing her adventures in homeschooling and connecting with other homeschooling families. She has been homeschooling her four children for many years now, including her youngest daughter Anna who is on the autism spectrum.
By Kathy Rivera, published in Anton Media, April 27, 2022
As of this writing, while COVID-19 cases have been inching up, most experts say that we have moved into a new phase of the pandemic, where the disease, while still dangerous, is less deadly than previous strains. In addition, preventative measures and treatments have advanced far beyond the early days of the crisis, when so little was known.
Certainly, that is news we’ve all been hoping to hear for more than two years, but there is another crisis that shows no signs of abating: the epidemic of mental health issues spurred by long-term social isolation, anxiety, illness, financial insecurity and other challenges.
While all of us have been impacted, the reality is that children, teens and young adults have experienced the losses surrounding COVID-19 in deep and potentially long-lasting ways. Numerous studies have reported sharp increases in rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness and suicide attempts. In addition, the number of U.S. children who have a lost a parent or other caregiver to COVID-19 is estimated to exceed 200,000.
In a first-of-its-kind study of youth mental health during the pandemic period, released on March 31, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a dramatic increase in emotional and psychological trauma in kids and teens. More than a third of high school students said they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, with 44% reporting they felt “persistently sad or hopeless.” One in five considered suicide, and nearly 10% made a suicide attempt.
The CDC also reported that, during the first seven months of lockdown, hospitals experienced a 24% rise in mental-health-related emergency visits for children aged 5 to 11, and a 31% increase for those aged 12 to 17.
Sadly, these statistics came as no surprise to the team of clinicians at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center (the Guidance Center).
From the early days of the pandemic, we have been flooded with calls from hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, parents, schools and others desperate for help as they saw those statistics come to life.
At the Guidance Center, we’ve provided therapy to children—some as young as three years old—who are experiencing deep grief from the loss of a parent or other loved one. Many are grieving a loss of hope and confidence about their futures. Others are in dire financial situations born of pandemic job loss. All lost fundamental things that we used to take for granted: the ability to be with friends, go to school, celebrate joyous occasions, participate in extracurricular activities and have confidence that we were safe in the world.
Even if the pandemic disappeared tomorrow, the mental health effects would not disappear with it. Unfortunately, we cannot expect our children to simply get over what has been such a profoundly difficult, scary and uncertain time.
Despite these gloomy predictions, parents need not succumb to hopelessness. You have a vital role to play, and it’s one that can make all the difference in helping your children survive and even thrive despite the challenges of the past two years.
First, be on the lookout for signs of emotional distress. Is your child or teen isolating themselves, even though they are allowed to be with others? Have their sleeping or eating patterns changed? Have their grades dropped dramatically? Have they lost interest in the things that used to make them happy? Are they more irritable than usual? Have they turned to substances to improve or numb their moods?
Don’t assume that they will tell you they’re struggling. Ask them how they are feeling. Assure them that it’s normal to be feeling sad, scared and even angry in the face of all they’ve experienced. And tell them there is absolutely no shame in asking for professional help. Tell them, it’s OK not to be OK.
The Guidance Center has been serving the community for nearly 70 years, and we are here during this time. We never turn anyone away for inability to pay, and we promise to see urgent cases within 24 to 48 hours through our Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project and our Fay J. Lindner Foundation Triage and Emergency Services. We offer individualized, culturally sensitive treatment via telehealth, in person or a combination of both, depending on the needs of the family.
Children are not little adults. They have specific needs that are best addressed by mental health professionals who are specially trained to help young people. They are also resilient, and with the proper support, they will overcome the challenges brought on by the pandemic. We all will.
Bio:Kathy Rivera, LCSW,is the Executive Director/CEO of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading non-profit children’s mental health organization. To get help for your child or to support the Guidance Center’s life-saving work, call (516) 626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.
At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the well-being of children and families always comes first.
At the legal practice of John M. Zenir, Esq., where the focus is on family law, divorce law and estate planning, the exact same philosophy holds true.
“Children are deeply affected by divorce, custody, abuse and other difficult circumstances,” says Zenir. “One of the realities with family law is that kids always think they caused the problem between their parents; whether they are 2 or 22, they believe it’s their fault if their parents are getting divorced.”
Improving the lives of children has been central to Zenir’s life. As a young man, he taught 7th and 8th grade, and helped young people receive their high school equivalency diplomas.
While he veered from that path for nearly two decades, running a family cleaning supply business, he eventually found himself drawn to the law and got his degree at Touro. He soon felt pulled to center his practice around family law, working for many years representing children as part of a law guardian panel.
Therapy is Vital
His experiences in family court gave Zenir an unvarnished look at what conflict in the family can do to children. “When I first started as a lawyer, I saw how difficult it was for children to witness their families breaking apart,” he says. “It was devastating.”
But at the time, he adds, there was little open discussion about therapy. “Receiving mental health care is essential when kids go through such challenging times,” says Zenir, who shares that mental health issues in his family impacted him as a child. “It’s so important that we make therapy available to young people. That way, we will be much more likely to create adults who are not limited by their traumatic childhood experiences and can deal with society’s problems.”
The Children’s Center
Zenir’s involvement with the Guidance Center began when we took on the role of overseeing the Children’s Center at Nassau Family Court, which was designed to provide care and early learning to children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years, while their parents or guardians were conducting court business.
Since the pandemic took hold, family court has moved to an almost exclusively virtual model, so the Children’s Center has not operated for the past two years, but its value to the families who used it over many years is unquestionable.
“It gave families the freedom to not worry about what their children might experience if they had to wait in a hallway near the courtroom,” says Zenir, who co-chaired many fundraisers for the Children’s Center with Robert C. Mangi, Esq. and Allison Cacace.
The Children’s Center, founded by the late Honorable Burton S. Joseph, was loved not only by kids but also lawyers and judges.
“Family court issues can be contentious and highly emotional, and yelling and angry outbursts aren’t uncommon,” says Zenir. “Before the Children’s Center existed, kids were at risk of hearing adult conversations that they shouldn’t hear, which made court officials very concerned. It served to protect children from heated exchanges, and the people running it from the Guidance Center were wonderful.”
Championing Our Mission
Zenir continues to be a champion for the Guidance Center. He recently began charging a $100 consultation fee to prospective clients, which he donates in full to support our work.
“Especially during pandemic times, there is no question that kids desperately need therapy,” he says. “Everyone is recognizing that therapy is a big part of wellness today, and that the more available therapy is, the better our community will be.”
What the Future Holds
While Zenir’s practice is thriving, he’s considering reducing his hours so he can spend more time with his wife Deborah of 52 years, his three children and six grandchildren—but he doesn’t expect to ever retire fully.
“I will probably cut down to 16 or 20 hours somewhere down the road,” says Zenir, a history buff who plans to travel more and increase his visits to the New York Historical Society.
Whatever path he chooses, the Guidance Center is grateful to John Zenir for his unwavering dedication to the children and families of Long Island and to the Guidance Center’s vital work.
To learn more about supporting North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, contact Director of Development Lauren McGowan at (516) 626-1971, ext. 320.
For parents whose children experience serious emotional and behavioral issues, the challenges can seem overwhelming. Not only are they dealing with the stress and heartbreak of seeing their kids struggle, they’re also trying to navigate a complex maze of services related to school, health, housing, finances and more.
These families often don’t know where to turn—plus, they can feel desperately alone.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has an innovative program that addresses the needs of these caregivers: our Family Advocate Program which pairs parents with one of our family peer advocates.
“These credentialed professionals aren’t therapists,” explains Paul Danilack, Supervisor of High-End Community- Based Services at the Guidance Center. “Rather, they are parents of their own children with special needs who are trained to educate, guide and empower other parents to better understand their children and their needs.”
“We want to help these parents not feel so isolated.”
For two decades, Yvonne Novy-Cutler has been a family peer advocate with the Guidance Center, meeting with parents to learn about their child’s particular issues, which may include severe depression and anxiety, school refusal, aggressive behavior and more. “Whereas social workers and mental health counselors work with families, we can share our personal experiences,” she says. “We’ve been where they are and have walked in their shoes.”
Family peer advocates provide a wide range of support, attending evaluations with parents; going to CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings; helping build skills within the family to manage difficult behaviors; and seeking residential placement or inpatient hospitalization if needed. While advocates don’t provide therapy, they can help families access those services.
Shari Bushansky, another one of our dedicated advocates, helps run the program’s weekly support groups, where parents share their challenges and successes, talk about what worked and what didn’t, and build a social support network.
“We want to help these parents not feel so isolated,” says Bushansky, who has been serving our clients for 20 years. “Often, their family and friends don’t understand what it’s like to be the parent of a child with emotional and behavioral disabilities, and it helps the parents to know they aren’t alone.”
Our advocates work with parents and the child’s therapist to help design a plan to modify their youngster’s negative behavior. For example, they help parents create behavioral charts to develop a uniform approach of rewards and consequences, which helps motivate children to listen and respond appropriately. Moreover, advocates act as a bridge to many services, such as schools, counselors, courts, case management and others.
Danilack has nothing but praise for his team. “Yvonne and Shari are critical members of both the department and the agency,” he says. “They put their all into their work and know better than anyone how to connect with the families they serve.”
Both Novy-Cutler and Bushansky say that, while their work can be stressful, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. “These parents have been down a long, tough road, and watching as their families heal makes it all worth it,” says Novy-Cutler. Confirming the advocates’ value at a recent parent support group, one mom stated, “These two women have saved my life!”
This story will be published in Blank Slate Media newspapers in April 2022
Helping Your Child Through Divorce
In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email email@example.com.
Question: After much discussion, including couples therapy, my husband and I have decided to divorce. We both know it’s the right thing to do, but we’re very worried about how our kids (we have two girls and a boy, 5, 8 and 10) are going to handle it. Can you offer some advice on how we can best support them during this difficult time?
— Splitting Up
Dear Splitting Up:
The rise in divorce rates in the pandemic period show that you and your husband are far from alone: In 2021, the COVID-19 crisis triggered a nearly 21% increase in divorce filings compared with the previous year.
Whenever there is a separation or divorce, there is no way around the fact that your children will be impacted in profound ways.
And, while divorce doesn’t have the same stigma it did years ago, it still is a difficult event in a young person’s life.
The dissolution of their parents’ marriage can create enormous stress for youngsters. Divorce can be devastating to the children’s feelings of safety, causing fear of abandonment and fear of losing a parent’s love. The result: Anxiety, depression and low self-esteem are common.
Guilt is often another problem, as many children blame themselves for the divorce, believing that it is somehow their fault and that if they had just been “good,” the separation never would have happened.
In addition, many parents make the mistake of talking negatively about their ex-spouse in front of their children. This upsets them because they see their parents as their caretakers, and they need to feel safe and supported by both of them.
When parents put their kids in the middle of their battles, the children struggle with issues of loyalty. Even if they are very caring parents, they may do things inadvertently that cause distress to their child, such as asking the child to talk with the ex-spouse about a change in weekend plans instead of dealing with the adult directly.
Here are some tips on how to help your children deal with divorce:
Be supportive, reassuring your kids that both of you will always love them and be there for them.
Encourage them to speak to you openly about all their feelings, and validate that those feelings are normal and completely acceptable.
Learn how to co-parent the children so there is no confusion on discipline. Rules about bedtime, homework and the like should remain consistent.
Never talk negatively about the other parent in front of the children.
If possible, show a united front by attending events like back-to-school nights, games and other activities together.
Let their teachers know about your separation so they are on the lookout for any troubling behaviors from your children.
Foster the relationships your children have with your ex’s family so they don’t feel the loss of those attachments.
Consider placing your child in a therapeutic group so they don’t feel like they are alone in their experience. Many schools have programs like “Banana Splits” offered by school-based social workers.
Be sure to get support for yourself through this process through friends, family members and professional therapy, if needed.
Remember, the post-divorce relationship with your ex-spouse is perhaps the most important factor in how well your children handle the matter, so do your best to get along for their sake. Knowing that they are loved no matter what by both of you is the most important message. During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients both in person and remotely via a telehealth platform. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a staggering impact on nearly every aspect of our lives, but one of the pandemic’s most notable and long-lasting effects has been the increasing rates of burnout in the United States. While burnout—a type of exhaustion caused by exposure to prolonged or repeated stress—is often discussed in the context of the workplace, it can affect everyone. From office employees to students to caregivers, burnout is taking a significant toll on our mental health.
Traditionally, burnout is understood in relation to stress at work. In 2019, the World Health Organization first declared workplace burnout a “stress syndrome.” The symptoms include “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion” and “reduced professional productivity.”
But burnout in settings other than the workplace has drawn further attention in the past two years. Caregiver burnout is described as a state of “physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.” When schools transitioned to remote learning in 2020, many parents and caregivers struggled with a sense of burnout due to the added responsibilities at home. Psychology Today notes that burnout often occurs when someone “is not in control of how a job is carried out.” The lack of control that we have all experienced amid the pandemic’s unpredictability is likely a major cause of increasing rates of burnout.
School Pressures Can Create Burnout
Students of all ages are also facing academic burnout, especially alongside the challenges of remote learning and the other emotional burdens brought on by the pandemic. But it’s not a new experience. Even before the pandemic, high school students felt a heightened weight on their academic performance in the face of the college admissions process. Similarly, college students felt that their career opportunities and future success might be hindered by any academic difficulties.
One of the most troublesome parts of burnout is that we often do not recognize it when it is building within us. Caregivers are often so focused on those dependent on them that they neglect to pay attention to their own well-being, instead prioritizing the needs of others. Similarly, students may prioritize their productivity and responsibilities, even outside of the normal school day or week, and they don’t take time to rest.
However, by prioritizing our productivity and neglecting our mental and physical well-being, we often sabotage the very productivity we sought to protect. Once stress transforms to burnout, the negative impact on productivity is inevitable. For caregivers, the old adage of caring for yourself before caring for others is important to keep in mind. We must help ourselves to help others.
The Need for Self-Care
One of the most important ways to prevent burnout is to regularly engage in self-care. Though we often see self-care portrayed in the media as expensive skincare products or a rigid exercise program, the most effective methods are often the simplest. By identifying small activities that bring you the most joy, you can find simple ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine.
This may mean choosing to listen to your favorite song on your commute to work, going for a morning run, or calling a loved one at the end of the day. The easier it is to include in your schedule, the more likely it is that you will make it a true habit.
In a similar vein, mindfulness can help to prevent burnout by reducing stress and improving boundaries between yourself and your work. Thirty-minute mindfulness exercises such as meditation or journaling can be added to a daily routine relatively easily. However, these exercises are not for everyone. Mindfulness can be incorporated, instead, into the activities in which you already engage. Mindfulness, above all, is a heightened sense of awareness and presence. To increase this, you may decide to put your phone away while eating lunch so you can focus solely on your meal or to take a walk without listening to anything but the sounds s of nature around you.
Emotional self-care, above all else, must bring you joy. It should not feel like yet another burden or responsibility to bear. Allow yourself to think outside of the box. Self-care does not look the same for everyone.
As we continue to navigate our lives amid the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we take this as an opportunity not to panic about the impact of burnout but instead to prioritize self-care and overall well-being. This awareness of burnout, ultimately, will serve as a time of revolution and innovation in work, caregiving, academics and all other aspects of our lives.
Bio: Kelly Christ is a guest blog writer originally from Manhasset, NY. Kelly is currently studying social work at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service in New York, NY. She received her bachelor’s degree at Fordham University at Rose Hill in 2021, where she double majored in English and Psychology. Kelly is passionate about both writing and mental health advocacy.
At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, our mission is to bring hope and healing to children and families experiencing depression, anxiety and other challenges. Although we are a children’s mental health organization, we know that emotional well-being and physical health are inexorably tied, each deeply impacting the other.
The Guidance Center has several programs that promote the health of mothers and children. One is our Good Beginnings for Babies program, which aims to promote healthier pregnancies that will result in healthier babies and to nurture relationships between parent and child. Good Beginnings for Babies supports teen and young adult mothers prior to the birth of their child and throughout the first year of the child’s life with support, counseling and advocacy.
Through our Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program, we provide a rapid response and diagnosis for mothers suffering from postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which are estimated to impact one in seven women.
As part of our educational and advocacy work, the Guidance Center partnered with Hofstra University’s Public Health Program, School of Health Science and Human Services to create Birth Justice Warriors, an initiative born out of the crippling bias and injustice faced by Black mothers in the United States in general and in Nassau County in particular.
According to the New York State Department of Health, a Black woman is up to four times more likely to die in childbirth than a white mother. In Nassau County, the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births is 9.4 for Black babies versus the 2.2 reported for white non-Hispanic babies.
Birth Justice Warriors are volunteer advocates from many professions and backgrounds, working with community members, pediatricians, nurses, health care professionals, elected officials, members of faith-based institutions and others to bring education and awareness to this inequality. Ultimately, one of Birth Justice Warriors’ goals is to have legislation written that guarantees that this crucial information is delivered to all women of child-bearing age.
In late January, I joined with Dr. Martine Hackett, my Birth Justice Warrior co-founder and an associate professor in the public health and community health programs at Hofstra, at a press conference held by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The senator, along with Representative Alma Adams of North Carolina, are the sponsors of the Maternal CARE Act, which would provide funding for evidence-based training programs to reduce bias in maternal health and establish programs to bring health care services to pregnant women and new mothers in an effort to reduce the disproportionate rate of maternal death and other poor health outcomes among Black women and their babies.
In her statement, Gillibrand said the following: “Health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address persistent biases in our health system and do more to ensure women have access to culturally competent, holistic care to reduce preventable maternal mortality.”
Both North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center and Birth Justice Warriors support this important legislation, and we hope that you will join us in spreading the word so that allwomen receive the care they need and deserve.
Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust is the Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Leeds Place and is a co-founder of Birth Justice Warriors, a collaboration of the Guidance Center and Hofstra University. To learn more about Birth Justice Warriors, contact Dr. Walthrust-Taylor at (516) 997-2926, ext. 229, or email NTaylorWalthrust@northshorechildguidance.org.
Ashley Rivas had to grow up fast during the pandemic.
At age 15 in early April 2020, she shielded her 8-year-old sister from the details of their mother’s hospitalization due to COVID-19, a newly known virus that also had forced schools to close statewide.
When their mother was in the hospital, the teen helped her father sanitize the house and washed clothes for the family. She also took on the role of caretaker for her sister, helping her with homework in between their online classes. After her mother was released from the hospital two weeks later, she brought her food and cared for her while she was recovering.
“I was trying to keep my house together with my mom being sick and trying to be the next her,” Rivas, a Hempstead High School senior, recalled.
Rivas, now 17, is expected to be among about 35,000 Long Island students graduating in June, representing a milestone for a class that has weathered two years of pandemic learning. The students Newsday spoke to said they matured faster during the pandemic, when they had to take care of family members sickened with the coronavirus, and became more disciplined because of their virtual and, later on, hybrid schedules.
Some seniors said they have gotten back to normal since the school mask mandate ended on March 2. They look forward to resumed field trips, get-togethers with friends, the prom, graduation and adulthood. Others noted school is still not the same amid the uncertainty, lamenting lost opportunities to grow friendships, along with the missed basketball games and concert rehearsals that could not to be rescheduled.
Dena Papadopoulos, a mental health counselor at Roslyn Heights-based North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, said this senior year has been marked by amplified excitement, but also anxiety.
“There is that … general anticipatory anxiety that ‘I’m excited for college’ or ‘I’m excited about the next step,’ but ‘I’m also anxious because I don’t know exactly what to expect’ ” in any given senior year, she said. Now, “It’s more intensified.”
‘Stronger than I thought I could be’
In the spring months of 2020, Rivas was struggling.
“The teachers didn’t really know how to work with Zoom; my mom was in the hospital, I think. And then it was also around my birthday,” she recalled. “Everything was just falling apart.”
Because school was virtual and New Yorkers were urged to stay at home, Rivas found herself with a lot of alone time.
One day when scrolling TikTok, she saw people crochet. She had never done it before but decided to give it a try. She bought some yarn and watched tutorials online. Soon enough, she made a bee plush and put it on Etsy. It sold the next day. She sold about 20 more later.
Rivas always has been interested in business. When she was a first-grader, she sold purses made out of duct tape to her classmates for $3 apiece. She also has considered becoming a schoolteacher like her mother did in her home country of El Salvador.
Her bee plush success helped crystallize the path she wants to take. Rivas said she plans to study business administration or economics for her undergraduate degree, though she’s yet to choose a college. National College Decision Day is May 1.
The experience also taught her something else.
“I think I matured a lot quicker,” she said. “It made me realize that maybe I hadn’t known who I really was. There were parts of me that I didn’t even know about. … I’m stronger than I thought I could be.”
To protect her mother, who still has a dry cough, Rivas continues to wear a mask in class for the most part.
“It’s still not the same,” she said of school. “It’s always in the back of your mind that there’s a global pandemic going on. And you have to be careful.”
Had to become a ‘mini adult’
Zakkiyya Fraser, 17, a senior at Valley Stream Central High School, remembered looking to adults for answers in the early days of the pandemic.
And not getting them.
It took Fraser some time to learn to accept the unknown. “It’s like you become a mini adult,” she said.
“The pandemic may have made us grow up in a [different] way,” she added. “Having that mindset of still being a child but having to function almost as an adult has been very challenging, I think, for all high school students.”
When school turned remote and, later on, hybrid, Fraser said she pushed herself to become more independent. The routine structured by a typical school day was no longer there, and the inconsistency of learning online was difficult for her to adjust.
“Being on the computer is like, not necessarily that you’re forgotten, but much harder to connect in the classroom,” she recalled. “It’s harder to grasp the content. It’s almost like you’re there, but not there.”
Ian Hua, a William Floyd High School senior, can relate.
“We didn’t have a school schedule to keep us on track. We needed to manage our own time without a bell,” the 18-year-old said. “We didn’t have teachers to ask questions to. We did, but it was much harder to communicate.”
Still, Hua said he feels “overwhelmingly lucky” compared to other student cohorts who were affected by the pandemic differently.
“There were seniors that had their final events taken away. They had no prom. They had no graduation,” Hua said. “Then there are younger kids that never had a first year of kindergarten. … Honestly, I feel very thankful.”
Shifting his perspective
Timothy Hogan, a senior at East Islip High School, didn’t begin to appreciate school until it was shut down.
Before, it was like “you can’t wait to leave,” the 17-year-old said. “With COVID, it made me want to go to school in person.”
The pandemic also has taught him that the things he used to not give a second thought are not a given.
“Whether it’s family, school, your friends, going out to see a movie or to shop, you can’t take those things for granted,” Hogan said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Daniel Frankenberry, 18, said he grew closer to his family.
Those first few months of staying at home allowed him to spend more time with family, an experience that confirmed his desire to stay in or near New York when choosing a college. “It reinforced the idea that I wanted to stay home,” he said. He’s yet to decide which college to attend.
Looking back, Frankenberry felt like part of his high school years was stolen.
The better part of “my second half of sophomore year just didn’t exist,” the Garden City High School senior said.
His junior year was spent under such heavy restrictions — plastic shields around desks, social distancing and masking — that he said regular interactions were greatly reduced.
“It’s unfortunate,” Frankenberry said. “Definitely a little bit upsetting. It’s a shame that [we] couldn’t get the full experience.”
Frankenberry is hanging out with his friends as much as he can and planning social activities — almost as if to make up lost time.
“I can’t say I’m trying to fix everything,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to make all that time back. But you have to enjoy what time you still have left … before graduation.”
March is National Social Work Month, and today happens to be World Social Work Day! Every day of the year, we are proud of the dedicated staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which consists of social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, all of whom work to bring hope and healing to the children and families in our community – more important than ever during the pandemic, which has created a true mental health crisis.
Here, some of our staff members give insight into their chosen careers:
“I like to say that the social work profession actually chose me instead of the other way around. Through my own personal experiences with trauma, abuse and neglect, I needed to find a way to heal and experience an inner serenity. The social work profession has given me the tools to help combat and overcome many challenges throughout my life. I enjoy being able to help others, and it was clear to me early on in my career that changing the world starts with helping one person and being able to empathize with them. I have been in their shoes. North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is a place of hope and healing for so many of our children and families. That’s the reason I am here and love to do what I do.”
Kathy Rivera, LCSW, Executive Director/CEO
“Although I’ve known this for a long time, the past few years have reinforced that social workers are the most dedicated, selfless and courageous people out there. Social workers get the job done. They show up day after day providing guidance, hope and support to others, often with the thought of wishing they could do more. And while social work practice is undervalued in society, social workers aren’t doing this work for acknowledgement or compensation. They recognize that making a difference for one child or family is important enough to keep going. I am grateful to be part of a team of compassionate, talented clinicians and hope that we continue to show the world who we are and what we do. Happy Social Work Month!
Vanessa McMullan LCSW
“My primary mission in choosing my career path was to try to enhance people’s well-being with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of those who are vulnerable, disenfranchised, oppressed or at risk. I have a personal and professional passion for working with at-risk youth and those in need, helping them find their strengths and ways of looking at the world from a different lens and showing them ways of being that they may have never thought were possible.”
“Dee” Nendler Michel, LCSW
“I am a licensed psychologist back home in Venezuela, and when I immigrated to the United States, I decided to rebuild my career and became a social worker. Working with children and families has been my passion in the past 20 years. I strongly believe that intervening in families creates a better foundation for societies. Working with Spanish-speaking children and their families ensures a better future for this community, my community.”
Erika Perez-Tobon, LMSW
“I always knew I wanted to help others, and while I was going through the college application process, I decided to study psychology as an undergraduate. While there, I spoke with professors and completed an internship in the mental health field. Ever since then, I knew this was the career for me. So many children and families are in need of assistance and are doing the most they can for support. It has become my pleasure to work with and advocate for these children and families.”
Paul Danilack, LMHC
“Adolescence is a time of great change, both emotionally and physically. I have always been fascinated about how this turmoil eventually gives way to adulthood. There are many detours along the way, and oftentimes youngsters need help ‘steering their ship’ or even preventing it from ‘capsizing.’ I very much enjoy being part of this journey. Having once been an adolescent myself (some would say I am still one!) I feel I have a lot to offer in easing pain, perspective and support. I enjoy helping to turn chaos into harmony and the valuable lessons that I learn from interactions with my young patients.”
Dr. Jolie Pataki
“I chose to be a social worker because I was lucky enough to be raised by one! My mom, who has been a clinical social worker for over 35 years, always said to me, ‘You are such a natural social worker!’ As it became time to choose colleges, I had already known in my heart that social work was what I wanted to do for my career. This is not, nor has it ever been, simply a job or career for me. This has been my passion. Putting a passion and a career together is a uniquely beautiful thing. I always wanted to help. I always want people to feel safe, heard, respected and validated. I always wanted to help people find their voices.
It has been truly rewarding to work with children and their families because you get to watch them grow. You get to be a part of their story. You get to help them in their most vulnerable moments, which I feel are the moments that show the most strength. They allow you into their lives in such a unique way. When clients learn their own strengths (that you saw from the moment you first interacted with them), that is why it is so rewarding. The human connection and allowing their pain to be kept safe with you is an honor.
Starting as an intern, now being a Clinical Supervisor of this agency, with our mission being ‘restoring and strengthening the emotional well-being of children and families’ is truly rewarding.” Gillian Uhl, LMSW
“I got into social work due to my mom being a social worker. I grew up in a multicultural home as she was a host mom to international students through the University of South Carolina at the time. I learned early on that helping others was a part of life and only enriches your life. I also remember telling my mom while I was in graduate school that I don’t need a degree to help people.
Now that I am in the profession for three years, I have been able to grow my skills and see the potential that this profession has. The experiences I have had at the Guidance Center have set me up for anything the world has to offer. I know its cliché, but I really feel like I have saved lives doing what I do. Being in the drug and alcohol program, you get to experience the lowest points of youth as they utilize substances to cope. To bring people out of that place so they can see the light within themselves to do better and be better is beyond words. Helping them learn to love themselves amid all the traumas they may have been through highlights their own ability to make it through anything. It is this part of the profession that keeps me going. Incorporating mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing has been the cornerstone of my style. Incorporating them into garden therapy would be the next step in my journey and what I’m actively working toward.”
Ricardo Castillo, LMSW
My journey into the mental health field began with having a parent who was a middle school guidance counselor and was very attuned to addressing feelings. I always knew that this too was my passion and direction in life. For me, I enjoy working with a multidisciplinary team of outstanding dedicated professionals who all have a similar goal in mind, the health and well-being of children and their families. It’s very rewarding to work with families to shift to a more positive perspective for their child and see that child on a more successful path emotionally, behaviorally and educationally.