Guidance Center Program Addresses Suicide Prevention

Guidance Center Program Addresses Suicide Prevention

 

Roslyn Heights, NY, October 24, 2022 — Two years ago, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s premiere children’s mental health agency, launched one of its most important programs ever: the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, named in honor of the son of Ellen Feldman and Donald Feldman.

On October 19, 2022, the Guidance Center welcomed the Feldmans, their son Matthew and other guests to its Roslyn Heights headquarters for the unveiling of the Butterfly Wall, which features brass butterfly plaques recognizing donors to this lifesaving initiative.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24, with more teenagers and young adults dying from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and lung disease combined.

With the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, the Guidance Center addresses high-risk cases with a thorough evaluation for suicide risk; multiple weekly sessions of individual, group and family therapy; and a culturally sensitive treatment plan that focuses on safety strategies, healthy coping skills and relapse prevention. Evaluation with a psychiatrist regarding the possible use of medication is also provided, along with in-home treatment and referrals to programs and services that will support parents’ efforts to protect their children.

“Suicide among young people is truly an epidemic,” said Elissa Smilowitz, Director of Emergency, Triage & Suicide Prevention Services at the Guidance Center. “The Feldman’s generous gift has allowed us to make a real difference in the lives of so many young people.”

Ellen Feldman says the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project has been instrumental in the journey her family has been on since the loss of her beloved son.

“Very soon after Doug died, Donald and I knew we wanted to do something that would prevent this tragedy from happening to other families,” she said. “I grew up in this community and raised my children here, so having the Guidance Center as the beneficiary of our donation to help young people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts made perfect sense.”

“I’m so proud of the work being done by the Guidance Center,” she added. “They are truly saving lives, and I can’t imagine a better way to honor our son.”

If you know a young person who may be at risk for suicide, contact the Guidance Center at 516-626-1971. The organization promises to see high-risk cases within 24 to 48 hours. For immediate help in a crisis, call 988, the new suicide hotline. To learn more about supporting the Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, contact Lauren McGowan at 516-626-1971, ext. 320.

Photo Caption: Daniel Oliver, Rosemarie Klipper, Rita Castagna, Donald Feldman, Matthew Feldman, Ellen Feldman, Kathy Rivera and Jennifer Rush

About Us:

As the preeminent not-for-profit children’s mental health agency on Long Island, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is dedicated to restoring and strengthening the emotional well-being of children (from birth – age 24) and their families. Our highly trained staff of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, vocational rehabilitation counselors and other mental health professionals lead the way in diagnosis, treatment, prevention, training, parent education, research and advocacy. The Guidance Center helps children and families address issues such as depression and anxiety; developmental delays; bullying; teen pregnancy; sexual abuse; teen drug and alcohol abuse; and family crises stemming from illness, death, trauma and divorce. For nearly 70 years, the Guidance Center has been a place of hope and healing, providing innovative and compassionate treatment to all who enter our doors, regardless of their ability to pay. For more information about the Guidance Center, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org or call (516) 626-1971.

National Grid Assists  In Beautification Efforts, Anton Media, October 12-18, 2022

National Grid Assists In Beautification Efforts, Anton Media, October 12-18, 2022

On September 16, 2022, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center welcomed 11 employees from National Grid to its Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center as part of the utility’s volunteer day of service, called Project C.

The volunteers spent the entire day planting, painting, repairing and whole-heartedly doing whatever needed to be done to spruce up the Nature Nursery at the Right from the Start Center, which had been left largely unattended during the pandemic.

“We are so grateful to all the National Grid volunteers for working so hard and with such great spirits to beautify our Nature Nursery and surrounding areas,” said Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of the Right from the Start Center, where the Guidance Center serves its youngest clients and their families. “The Nancy Marks Nature Nursery continues to provide our young children and their parents with an opportunity to enjoy their natural environment using exploratory, hands-on stations and activities, such as musical instruments, water, paints and graduated steps.  Having a creative outdoor space to use during therapy and group sessions allows our therapists to engage children in a different way. The youngsters who have experienced this area love all that is has to offer and look forward to regularly returning.”

National Grid’s Alexandra Paoli, who was in charge of the project at the Guidance Center site, worked side by side with her mother, Michele Paoli, who has worked at the utility for 25 years. “Thousands of National Grid employees volunteer on this ‘Day of Service,’ which takes place at locations all across Long Island, upstate New York and New York City,” said Alexandra, a recent graduate of Penn State University and Associate Analyst, Community Customer Engagement. “My mother knew about the great work done at the Guidance Center, so when she suggested it be one of the sites of our statewide volunteer initiative, it was a natural choice.”

Therese Sullivan, National Grid’s Director of Operations Enablement, has participated in both Project C Day of Service events. “I was glad to volunteer for the Guidance Center because mental health is so important, especially helping children at an early age,” she said. “It is a great resource for families, and I’m proud that our company supports these efforts.”

If your company would like to discuss opportunities to volunteer at the Guidance Center or support our mission in other ways, contact Lauren McGowan at LMcGowan@northshorechildguidance.org or call her at (516) 626-1971, ext. 320.

Benefit for Children’s Center at Family Court, Anton Media, Oct. 18, 2022

Benefit for Children’s Center at Family Court, Anton Media, Oct. 18, 2022

Roslyn Heights, NY, October 4, 2022 — Family court hearings are often contentious, and they are certainly no place for young ears. Luckily, with the Children’s Center at Nassau County Family Court, parents and guardians have a safe place to bring children from infants to 12-year-olds while they are conducting court business.

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which runs this important program, is holding a fundraiser to support the Children’s Center at Nassau County Court on Thursday, October 27, 2022. The event will be held at Tesoro’s Ristorante, 967 Old Country Road, Westbury, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and will feature cocktails, music and a buffet dinner.

“The Children’s Center at Nassau County Family Court provides a valuable service because it allows children to be insulated from the stress involved in the horror of family court litigation,” said John M. Zenir, Esq., co-chair of the fundraiser. “Just imagine a six-year-old sitting in a public waiting room outside of a courtroom not knowing what is happening. What fear and dread that child must feel! Instead, he or she can go to the Children’s Center and play with toys, read a book and have a snack while being attended to by qualified professionals.”

According to co-chair Allison Cacace, children can be traumatized if they hear their loved ones arguing in court. “The Children’s Center at Nassau County Family Court provides a safe, nurturing environment for children while their parents or other caretakers sort out their legal affairs,” said Cacace, Director of Tobay Day School and owner of Casino One Limousines. “It is extremely important that we raise awareness and funds for this invaluable service that makes a positive impact on children and is also greatly beneficial to those who can’t afford to pay for childcare during court sessions.”

“The mission of the Women’s Bar includes promoting the fair and equal administration of justice,” said Cherice P. Vanderhall Wilson, President of the Nassau County Women’s Bar Association, which is co-hosting the benefit. “The Children’s Center eliminates childcare as a barrier to justice and provides a resource for those who need it while they seek assistance from one the County’s most important courts.”

Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Director of the Guidance Center’s Leeds Place, said, “The Children’s Center not only provides childcare, but it’s also an early learning environment, and each child leaves with a book to take home. We are so grateful to John, Allison and the Nassau County Women’s Bar

Association for their dedication and support. We hope that all who care about children will join us on October 27th!”

To purchase tickets or sponsorships, email mespichan@northshorechildguidance.org, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org or call 516-626-1971, ext. 309.

Caption: The Children’s Center provides a safe, nurturing environment for children while their parents are in court.

About Us:

As the preeminent not-for-profit children’s mental health agency on Long Island, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is dedicated to restoring and strengthening the emotional well-being of children (from birth – age 24) and their families. Our highly trained staff of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, vocational rehabilitation counselors and other mental health professionals lead the way in diagnosis, treatment, prevention, training, parent education, research and advocacy. The Guidance Center helps children and families address issues such as depression and anxiety; developmental delays; bullying; teen pregnancy; sexual abuse; teen drug and alcohol abuse; and family crises stemming from illness, death, trauma and divorce. For nearly 70 years, the Guidance Center has been a place of hope and healing, providing innovative and compassionate treatment to all who enter our doors, regardless of their ability to pay. For more information about the Guidance Center, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org or call (516) 626-1971.

Safe Place for Kids in Court, by Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Anton Media, Oct. 5, 2022

Safe Place for Kids in Court, by Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Anton Media, Oct. 5, 2022

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 the Children’s Center at Nassau County Family Court, a program of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, 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 environment while adults are busy in court.

The Children’s Center, located at 1200 Old Country Rd #2, Westbury on the first floor of the Family Court building, is not a babysitting service but rather an early learning center.  Every aspect of the Children’s Center promotes learning by which the children can explore new things in a safe, structured and professionally supervised setting.

The Children’s Center provides kids with a safe haven that gives them the opportunity to develop early learning skills through age-appropriate play and activities that are fun and exciting for toddlers and children up to age 12.

Earlier this summer, we were excited to announce that the 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.

How can you help? We are seeking volunteers at the Children’s Center. 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.

Another way to help support the Children’s Center is to attend the fundraiser we are having on October 27th at Tesoro’s Ristorante in Westbury. For ticket information, call 516-626-1971, ext. 309.

Bio: To learn more about volunteering at the Children’s Center, contact Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Director at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Leeds Place and head of the Children’s Center, at 516-997-2926, ext. 229, or email ntaylorwalthrust@northshorechildguidance.org.

Guidance Center’s Innovative Program for Latina Teens

Guidance Center’s Innovative Program for Latina Teens

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.

The Guidance Center’s Work “Beyond Our Walls”

The Guidance Center’s Work “Beyond Our Walls”

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. 

In addition, we have enhanced services to the clients in our Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program by adding yoga classes and self-care outings.

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.

Responding to the Crisis in Children’s Mental Health

Responding to the Crisis in Children’s Mental Health

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.

Supporting the Well-being of All Mothers and Babies, By Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust

Supporting the Well-being of All Mothers and Babies, By Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust

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.

Know the Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Know the Signs of Teen Dating Violence

February 23, 2022, Parenting Plus in Anton Media, by Elissa Smilowitz

Recently, the distraught parents of a local eighth-grade girl contacted North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center because their daughter was severely depressed. They shared that in the past few months, she had been the subject of harassment and cyberbullying from her ex-boyfriend, who had spread false rumors through social media that she was pregnant. He’d also texted her calling her derogatory names, and he hinted that she “better watch her back.”

To their surprise, the parents learned that the boyfriend had treated their daughter poorly before the breakup. Now, she had reached the point of expressing suicidal thoughts, saying that she just wanted to just disappear.

The high-risk Triage & Emergency team at the Guidance Center determined that the case was urgent and made an appointment to see the family the very next day. These therapists, who had received special training through the Guidance Center’s Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project, were able to work with the girl to help her realize that her boyfriend’s tactics—isolating her from her friends and family, making her feel unworthy of any connections with others outside of the relationship and sharing damaging social media posts—were his way of making her feel worthless so he could control her. 

Abusive behavior among teens and pre-teens is nothing new, but in the age of technology, abusers have a new tool that can spread their hurtful, hateful messages like wildfire. But whether it’s through social media or in person, the problem is extremely damaging to its victims, and can even turn deadly.

February has been designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which acknowledges how serious and widespread a problem this is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among high school students who dated, 21% of females and 10% of males experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence. In addition, 1 in every 5 students between the ages of 11 and 14 say their friends are victims of dating violence, with nearly half experiencing verbal abuse.

Common warning signs of dating abuse include:

  • Checking cell phones, emails or social networks without permission
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Constant belittling or put-downs
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Constant mood swings toward their significant other
  • Physically inflicting pain or hurt in any way
  • Possessiveness
  • Telling someone what to do
  • Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex

How can parents try to prevent their child from becoming a victim of abusive dating behavior? Monitor your kids’ social media usage. Discuss the importance of respect in a relationship. Share the warning signs with them. Most important, always let them know you are there to help, not to criticize; this will help them feel they can come to you for advice.

If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, such as isolation, anxiety or depression, ask them directly what’s going on. They need to know you are there to listen to them in a loving manner, without judgment.

Though demeaning, threatening behaviors are clearly unacceptable, it can be difficult to convince a teen that his or her partner is being abusive. It’s important that young people who have experienced this kind of abuse receive mental health treatment to improve their feelings of self-worth and help them move forward. Through individual and group therapy, they develop the strength and tools to recognize that their relationship is toxic and to learn what a loving, respectful relationship is like.

Bio: Elissa Smilowitz is Director of Triage, Emergency & Suicide Prevention at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency. To learn more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org or call 516-626-1971. For help at any time of day or night, call the 24-hour hotline at the Safe Center LI, 516-542-0404.

When Parents Have No Place to Turn

When Parents Have No Place to Turn

By Paul Danilack, Published in Anton Media, January 20, 2022

Growing up, Timmy appeared to be a little bit different than other children his age. He would cry often and have frequent temper tantrums. His parents brought him to see an early intervention therapist, and his symptoms lessened for a few years. But in middle school, his frustration returned in the form of anger, both verbal and physical. Typical back talk turned into confrontations.  Timmy would throw objects and began to attack his parents. They eventually reached their limit and started giving into his behaviors to stop the fighting.

Timmy’s parents felt alone and helpless. They didn’t know where to turn to get their child the care he so desperately needed until a school guidance counselor suggested they call North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center and ask about the Family Advocate Program.

Through this innovative program, parents who are overwhelmed trying to navigate the maze of services available for their child are paired with one of the Guidance Center’s Family Advocates. These credentialed professionals aren’t therapists; rather, they are parents of their own children with special needs and are trained to educate, teach, guide and empower other parents to better understand their children and their needs.

With an individualized, family-driven approach, the Guidance Center’s Family Advocates meet with the parents to learn about their child’s particular issues. Some children have serious behavioral problems, acting out verbally or even physically. Some refuse to go to school. Some struggle with severe anxiety or depression. Many of the problems children are living with have been exacerbated by the stresses caused by the pandemic.

Family Advocates provide a wide range of information and support, attending evaluations with parents; going to CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings; helping build skills within the family to manage difficult behaviors; finding residential placement when indicated; and seeking inpatient hospitalization if needed. In addition, while Family Advocates don’t provide therapy, they can help parents and their children access those services.

Family Advocates work with parents and the child’s therapist to help design a plan to modify their youngster’s negative behavior. For example, Family Advocates help parents create behavioral charts to develop a uniform approach of rewards and consequences. These strategies help motivate children to listen more carefully and respond in appropriate ways. Moreover, Family Advocates can act as a bridge to many services, such as the school, individual counseling, case management and more, so everyone involved in the child’s life are on the same page when it comes to addressing his or her needs.

Families with children who have developmental disabilities often feel secluded and without support. The Guidance Center’s Family Advocates are well informed about New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities as well as the process to become eligible for those services, which include respite counselors, community habilitation workers and housing availabilities, among others.

Another important feature of the Family Advocate Program is a weekly support group (now mostly virtual, though in person once a month), where parents share their challenges and successes, bouncing ideas off each other, talking about what worked and what didn’t, and building a social support network with others who are experiencing similar challenges. They learn that they are not alone, and they develop close, caring relationships with their parent peers. 

In summary, Family Advocates work to empower each family with a personalized approach, with recommendations and assistance based on what’s best for each client. They care deeply about every family as demonstrated by their compassion toward and knowledge of what can be a very difficult situation. 

Bio: Paul Danilack is the Supervisor of High-End Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health organization. To learn more about the Family Advocate Program, contact him by phone at 516-626-1971, ext. 303 or email pdanilack@northshorechildguidance.org.

The Pandemic’s Unsung Heroes, By Bruce Kaufstein

The Pandemic’s Unsung Heroes, By Bruce Kaufstein

All of us – no matter where we live, where we work or whether we consider ourselves left or right or somewhere in the middle – share at least one thing: We are eternally grateful for the dedication of the doctors, nurses, EMTs and other frontline responders who have worked tirelessly, even when tired-to-the-bone, throughout the pandemic.

In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, we all remember how residents of New York City took to the streets or their balconies each night at 7 p.m. to bang on pots to show their appreciation for the work of these healthcare heroes. It was a moving sight amid so much tragedy.

But there is another group of heroes that have rarely been given the credit they deserve during these challenging times: parents.

Although children and teens sometimes forget that their parents are real people with real struggles of their own, mothers and fathers have had to deal with enormous stresses as a result of the pandemic. They’ve had to deal with social isolation, job insecurity, financial hardships, family health crises, loss of loved ones and more. Through it all, they’ve needed to be there for their kids, reassuring them that normal life would return.

Parents had an enormous amount to deal with. Young people who already dealt with various mental health issues found their symptoms heightened, while many others experienced those challenges for the first time. Depression and anxiety were (and continue to be) widespread, but many kids exhibited an increase in anger, aggressiveness and impulsivity as they attempted to manage remote schooling, the loss of social connections and activities, and the lack of privacy and space that came with 24/7 togetherness with family.

And, as kids and teens tend to do, they often took out their frustrations on their parents.

At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we recognized early on that the pandemic would put a strain not only on kids but also on their families. We started a series of free, virtual Pandemic Parent Support Groups where mothers, fathers and other caregivers could express their own frustrations and learn from others that they were not alone.

With the guidance of one of our therapists, they shared ideas for helping children structure their time. They spoke of the struggles of remote schooling and learned coping strategies. They learned how to be a “container,” or a kind of safety valve, for their children’s feelings. And they were given a safe space to express their own fears.

Today, in what is often called “the new normal,” most of us are in a different place when it comes to the pandemic. Kids are back in school; the vaccine has provided a level of comfort that didn’t exist in the early days of the virus; and we are able to be out and about in the world once again, albeit with precautions and wariness.

Still, the challenges for kids and parents alike are far from over. We are just beginning to realize how the pandemic has impacted our children’s feelings of security and wellbeing, while still dealing with our own fears. Uncertainty remains about what will happen in the future.

But one thing gives me comfort: After witnessing the courage, steadfastness and love parents displayed during these last 19 months, I am certain that they will rise to the challenge.

If you are a parent or caregiver, give yourself credit for all you’ve done for your family. Be sure to engage in self-care while you continue to care for your kids and your community. The usual coping skills apply: support from friends, exercise, time in nature, meditation—whatever helps you take a deep breath and feeds your spirit.

Finally, reach out for professional support if you are feeling overwhelmed or if your children are struggling. Real heroes know that going it alone—especially as we enter the hectic holiday season—doesn’t make you brave. We are all navigating uncharted waters, and sharing our thoughts, expectations, successes and frustrations with other parents can strengthen our confidence and help steer us on a course that enhances performance, achievement and fulfilment.

Bruce Kaufstein, LCSW, is the Director of Clinical Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency, (516) 626-1971. He will be retiring from the Guidance Center at the end of this year after 37 years of dedicated service.

What Simone Biles Has Taught Us

What Simone Biles Has Taught Us

Published originally in Anton Media, Parenting Plus column, August 20 2021, By Kathy Rivera

After working in the mental health field for more than two decades, it should have come as no shock to me when I read some of the negative responses to Simone Biles’ announcement that she was pulling out of the Olympics team competition due to anxiety and other emotional challenges—but it stung, nevertheless.

On social media, TV and other outlets, outraged commenters called her everything from a coward to a quitter to a spoiled brat. Texas deputy attorney general Aaron Reitz went so far as say that Biles was a “national embarrassment.”

Former British TV host Piers Morgan tweeted, “Are ‘mental health issues’ now the go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport? What a joke. Just admit you did badly, made mistakes, and will strive to do better next time. Kids need strong role models, not this nonsense.”

Would these naysayers have been so harsh if Biles had pulled out because of a broken foot or burst appendix? 

These comments are a clear sign that stigma surrounding mental health issues is still pervasive. Fortunately, however, there was some very positive news: The level of support for Biles from other athletes, celebrities, public figures and everyday people far outweighed the negativity, with many describing her frankness in discussing mental health as brave and inspiring.

Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, who has been open about his own mental health challenges, put it this way: “We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to go through ups and down and emotional rollercoasters. The biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help when we go through those times.”

While few of our children are under the intense public scrutiny as are Biles, Phelps, tennis star Naomi Osaka or the many celebrities who have been discussing their mental health issues, they still face enormous pressures, especially given the disruption and fear brought on by the pandemic.

At North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we’ve been receiving a growing number of calls from parents concerned about their children and teens’ mental health. Many describe classic signs of depression and anxiety: withdrawal from friends, lack of interest in activities that normally gave them pleasure, mood swings, agitation, sleeplessness (or oversleeping), changes to eating patterns, substance abuse—even thoughts of suicide.

While mental health issues existed in kids long before the pandemic struck (an estimated one in five youth experience a mental illness), I believe we are on the verge of a crisis that may well surpass anything we’ve ever experienced. For many young people, their very foundations were shaken apart during the pandemic, with fear and hopelessness about the future enveloping them to the point of unending despair. 

How can you help? The situation with Simone Biles has provided an opportunity for families to discuss stigma and for caregivers to teach kids that no one should ever feel ashamed if they are feeling sad, anxious or emotionally overwhelmed. You can tell your children that Simone was brave to speak out and put her mental health first. You can also let them know that you are there for them, without judgment and with an open mind and heart, whenever they are feeling down.

You can also encourage your schools, religious organizations, medical professionals and other community resources to include discussions about mental health and provide resources for kids who are having difficulties. Don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health organizations like ours for information and support. 

Bottom line: It’s everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves about mental health and to stand up to stigma. Let’s use the opportunity surrounding Simone Biles’ brave decision to open up about her struggles to provide our kids with the knowledge, support and understanding they will need during the challenges that lie ahead.

Kathy Rivera, LCSW, is the new Executive Director/CEO of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading non-profit mental health organization which has been serving our community for nearly 70 years. The Guidance Center never turns anyone away for inability to pay. To get help for your child or to support the organization’s life-saving work, call (516) 626-1971 or visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

The Ultimate Loss: A Family’s Story Of Addiction In The Age Of Killer Drugs

The Ultimate Loss: A Family’s Story Of Addiction In The Age Of Killer Drugs

Last month, family and friends of Jason Witler, a 2011 graduate of Syosset High School, gathered at the high school baseball field to celebrate the life of a young man who died this past April from an accidental overdose of a drug laced with fentanyl. The event, the Jason Daniel Witler Memorial Home Run Derby, raised funds to support the work of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency, which has an outpatient adolescent chemical dependency program.

Three of Jason’s closest friends—Ashley Sullo, Jordan Slavin and Max Ferro—came up with the idea of the Home Run Derby shortly after Jason’s death, explains Slavin, who had been close to Witler since kindergarten.
“Several of us talked about getting together to share memories of Jason, but we realized that he would want us to do something to make people in the community happy, because he loved to make everyone laugh and smile,” Slavin said. “We also wanted to raise money for an organization that was important to Jason and his family that provides help for people struggling with addiction.”

Legislator Joshua. A Lafazan

The trio asked their Syosset High School classmate and Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan to help, and he was quick to join the effort, which drew more than 100 attendees.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to all who came out to show support and participate in the Jason Daniel Witler Memorial Home Run Derby,” Lafazan said. “Working with community partners, we were able to raise thousands of dollars in Jason’s memory to support the critical work that North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center does on Long Island.”

The Journey Of Addiction
According to Bonnie Witler, Jason’s mother, her son’s addiction issues began in his mid-teens. “One night, Jason came home after being out with his friends and my daughter came running into my room and said, ‘Mom, come downstairs! Jason’s barred out.’ I had no idea what she meant, but later learned it meant he was high on Xanax.”

For her part, Witler’s sister Dana had seen many friends with addiction issues, so she knew the signs when she saw them in her brother. “Addiction devastates families,” she says. “It usually starts small, with drugs like Percocet and Roxies [both opioids], but eventually they move on to cheaper and easily available drugs, even heroin, because they don’t have the money to keep up with it.”

Sadly, Witler’s addiction struggles are all too familiar for many families on Long Island and across the country. According to government reports, nationwide overdose deaths reached a record 93,000 in 2020. On Long Island, fatal drug overdoses rose 34 percent in Nassau and nearly 12 percent in Suffolk, and many experts believe the pandemic played a role in that increase.

The Witler family from left: Jordan, Dana, Bonnie and Jason
(Photo courtesy of the Witler family)

Our country has been facing a worsening and deadly overdose epidemic for the past several years, and fentanyl—the drug responsible for Witler’s accidental death—is a huge factor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl was involved in more than 60 percent of nationwide overdose deaths last year.
“Fentanyl is a powerful pain pill that’s being cut into heroin, cocaine and other drugs,” says Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Director of the Leeds Place, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center’s Westbury facility that houses its outpatient chemical dependency program. “It’s up to 100 times stronger than morphine, which makes it extremely cheap—and extremely deadly.”

Mental Health And Addiction
Witler’s family sought help from a variety of addictions specialists during his teens. After a year-plus stretch in inpatient rehab, he returned to Syosset High School in his senior year, to the delight of his many friends. He was sober—but Bonnie Witler soon realized that her son’s issues were complicated.
“As we were getting ready to shop for Jason’s senior prom, he had a meltdown,” she explained. “I took him to the emergency room, and they said he’d had a manic episode.”
This was the first time anyone had suggested that Jason had a mental health condition. “I then knew that he’d been misdiagnosed most of his life,” says Witler.

Indeed, mental health challenges and addiction struggles often go hand in hand, says Taylor-Walthrust. “With the increased number of youth and adolescents seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders, the most effective outcome is to treat both disorders simultaneously,” she explained.

Witler eventually moved to Florida for treatment, and Sullo, Jason’s girlfriend from Syosset, moved down to live with him. He got a job in real estate, and his life seemed to be on the right track.
“Jason was doing so well,” Sullo said. “He was clean and sober for five years, and he was dedicated to helping others stay drug-free. He was such a kind soul.”

She shares just one example: “Jason saw a guy he knew from a 12-step meeting at a gas station, and the kid didn’t look well,” Sullo recalled. “Jason made a point to get his number. For weeks, he called him every day, and they went to meetings together. He really cared about other people.”

A Mother’s Grief Turns To Activism
No one is sure what happened that caused Witler’s relapse, according to his mother and friends. The pandemic isolation may have been a factor, they say, but that’s only a guess.
As for Bonnie Witler, who moved to Florida a few months prior to Jason’s death to be near her son, her devastating loss has been made more bearable by her new role as an activist in the battle against addiction and the fentanyl crisis.

“I call myself a MOM, for ‘Mom on a Mission,’” Witler said, who is an active participant in various committees focusing on substance abuse, mental health and the fentanyl crisis. Witler was honored to be included in Sober House Task Force meetings created in July 2016 by Palm Beach County State Attorney General Dave Aronberg. The task force’s work has led to new regulations of sober homes and treatment centers in Florida that have become the model for other states.

Witler, who recently appeared on WSVN news channel in Florida, is also working with the head counsel of the American Medical Association to lobby congress to pass legislation related to the fentanyl crisis.
“Although many drug users have heard about the dangers of fentanyl, their addiction is too strong,” Witler said, “They are playing Russian Roulette.”

She adds that, because of fentanyl, “drugs are now weapons of murder. Dealers are actually charged with homicide.”
Acknowledging the widespread impact of addiction, Witler’s sister Dana said, “This is not just a Witler family problem, it’s a community problem, and that’s why sharing his story is so important. People need to realize that there’s help out there. We need to end the stigma, so people don’t think they have to handle this all alone.”

A Community Comes Together
The Jason Daniel Witler Memorial Home Run Derby provided a wonderful opportunity for Jason’s friends and family to comfort each other and to honor the life of a young man who cared deeply for others. The community responded in a big way. That day, more than $8,000 was raised, but through the generosity of the incredible people who made contributions in Jason’s memory before and after the event, the total reached more than $35,000, which will support the Guidance Center’s important work.

Ken Witler, Jason’s father, was awed by the large turnout. “It was all because of the hard work of Ashley, Jordan and Max, along with Josh Lafazan and his staff.” He added, “We’re glad that the proceeds will go to the Guidance Center, knowing they will be used to help kids and families struggling with addiction issues.”

Bonnie Witler says that she was “elated” for most of the day at the memorial, as so many young people and parents approached her about how much they felt her son was a part of their family and that “they loved having him around, with his great smile and big laugh.”
By the end of the day, however, the grief overcame her as she explained, “It comes in waves, and you have to feel your feelings.” But she feels best when doing all she can to prevent other families from undergoing the tremendous loss that she and her family now live with every day.

“The pain of losing a child is so enormous that some days I just don’t think I can make it,” she said. “But if I can help another life, it gives me reason to go on. Maybe Jason’s life will save hundreds of others.”

—Jenna Kern-Rugile is the Director of Communications at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

Providing a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Teens, Originally published in Anton Media Newspapers Parenting Plus column, July 21, 2021

Providing a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Teens, Originally published in Anton Media Newspapers Parenting Plus column, July 21, 2021

By Elissa Smilowitz

Recently, I spoke with a mother who was navigating an issue that has become increasingly common for many families here on Long Island and across the nation. Her 12-year-old daughter told her that she thinks she may be a lesbian, but that she’s feeling confused. The mom asked me how to best approach this conversation so her daughter would feel comfortable sharing her thoughts without fear of being judged or rejected. 

The first thing I told this mom was that it’s very promising to hear that she is keeping the lines of communication open and assuring her daughter that she can trust her family to be supportive as she ponders these deeply personal questions. 

More and more, we see clients at the Guidance Center who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community; some call themselves gay or lesbian, while others are exploring their gender and/or sexual identity. Research indicates that a growing number of teenagers are identifying themselves with nontraditional gender labels such as transgender or gender-fluid, and our experience backs that up.

Regardless of the names that are used, one thing is a constant: When young people face disapproval from their families based on preferences or gender issues, they are far more likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance use and suicidal thoughts.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals the dangers of rejection. The CDC reports that LGBTQ+ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate as heterosexual youth. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth who come from “highly rejecting families” are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as their LGBTQ+ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Some more eye-opening statistics: According to the Human Rights Campaign’s report, Growing Up LGBT in America, a survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ+-identified youth ages 13-17:

  • 4 in 10 say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
  • They are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved.
  • 26% say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by their family. Other top concerns include trouble at school/bullying and fear to be out/open.
  • More than half (54%) say they have been verbally harassed and called names involving anti-gay slurs.
  • LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely as non-LGBTQ+ youth to experiment with alcohol and drugs.
  • 92% say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ+. The top sources are school, the Internet and their peers.

Kids around the ages of 12 – 13 are at a time in their lives when they are discovering who they are, and for some, that brings up issues surrounding their sexual preferences and gender identity. As the CDC research shows, parental response is enormously important. 

Youth who are exploring these issues need the unconditional support of their families, as they do with any other life concerns. They need to know they can be themselves without risking judgment. 

The best response is clear: Express unconditional love and acceptance. Whether or not an adolescent ends up identifying as LGBTQ+ doesn’t change the fact that parents need to be calm and supportive. Tell them you will love them the same no matter what, and that you are there for them always.

There are some great resources to help you on this journey. One is The LGBT Network, an association of non-profit organizations working to serve the LGBTQ+ community of Long Island and Queens throughout their lifespan. It includes a group specifically for young people, called the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), which works to build community, provide a home and safe space for all, end anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and prevent suicide. Nationally, The Trevor Project also provides lots of helpful information.

If your child or teen shows signs of depression or other mental health challenges, don’t hesitate to get help from a professional. To make an appointment at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, call (516) 626-1971 or email intake@northshorechildguidance.org.

Elissa Smilowitz is the Director of Triage, Emergency & Suicide Prevention at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency. 

Gender identity terms

  • Gender identity: A person’s deeply held internal sense of being male or female or somewhere else on the gender spectrum.
  • Sex assigned at birth: The classification people are given at birth regarding sex and, typically, gender, usually based on genitalia.
  • Transgender: A person whose gender identity is different, and often fully opposite, from their sex assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender nonbinary: A person who identifies as both male and female, or somewhere in between male and female.
  • Gender fluid: Your sense of where you are on the spectrum of male to female can change over time, even from day to day.

Sexual identity terms

  • Lesbian: A woman who wants to be in a relationship with another woman.
  • Gay: A man who wants to be in a relationship with another man (though sometimes lesbians also use this term).
  • Bisexual: Someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women.
  • Pansexual: Someone who is interested in having relationships with all genders.

If your child or teen is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings, we can help through our Douglas S. Feldman Suicide Prevention Project. To learn more, click here

Closing Out a Career of Helping Others, Anton Media, by Dave Del Rubio, May 17, 2021

Closing Out a Career of Helping Others, Anton Media, by Dave Del Rubio, May 17, 2021

Guidance Center executive director retires after 45 years.

When Andrew Malekoff retires in July, it will have been after spending his entire 45-year career at Roslyn’s North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center. When he arrived as an intern to do his second-year field placement while working towards his masters degree at the Adelphi University School of Social Work, little did Malekoff know he’d leave four and a half decades later as the executive director. It’s an experience he treasures and attributes to how special a place North Shore was to work at all these years.

“It was really inspiring for me to become a part of an organization that was exclusively devoted to working with children, youth, teenagers and families,” he said. “We saw anybody that needed us without turning anybody away for inability to pay. Being able to be a part of an organization that had access to universal mental health care was really exciting. It was also innovative and saw children not as broken part. We invited the whole person to participate in the work that we did, so there was a kind of culture and tradition that I became a part of and was ultimately able to carry forth. That was really exciting. It felt like the right fit for me and was a big part of why I stayed there for so long.”

Having had a front-row seat, Malekoff saw changes in the clientele that sought North Shore’s help. “Just being able to observe things from the waiting room alone, you could see there was a big change over time.” Malekoff recalled. “It was a much more homogeneous, white, ethnic population [in the beginning]. Over time, there were more people of color and different religions. People dressed differently—some with religious garb. There were different accents, languages and so forth. Different groups over a period of time that were more reticent about going outside of the home and wherever they might traditionally go to seek help—for them to see that this was an alternative they could take advantage of versus what was available.”

During Malekoff’s run, he spent 15 years as a monthly contributor to Anton Community Newspapers. Publisher Angela Anton invited him to pen a column that initially started out as Parenting in February 2007 before it evolved into Parenting Matters a few years later. Despite having extensive experience as the author of a widely used textbook (Group Work with Adolescents: Principles and Practices, now in its third edition) and being the editor of the professional journal Social Work with Groups, the New Jersey native admits this new outlet required a creative pivot on his part.


“The discipline of writing a monthly column was something new to me,” he said. “It was a great opportunity and I like to take on new challenges like the experience of coming up with ideas and then putting something into 500 or 600 words and appealing to not just a professional audience, but to the regular citizenry so to speak. At the time, the column was called Parenting and I had wanted to change it and discussed that at the time with Angela. We changed it to Parenting Plus. I wanted to put the ‘Plus’ in because I felt there were things that I could write about that would fall outside of the more rigid guidelines of writing about parenting and kids. I thought [it could encompass] other issues whether it was government, policy or with certain news events that were reflections of issues of mental health that people would be interested in and give me a little more latitude.”

Over time, Parenting Plus became on of Anton’s more popular columns, always generating plenty of interest in print along with a heavy flow of traffic on the web. For Anton, bringing Malekoff into the editorial fold was an easy decision, particularly given the work she’d seen him do in his role at the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center.


“I have know Andy from the start as a board member and as a dear friend,” she said. “He was responsible for starting many new programs and receiving many government grants at the North Shore Child And Family Guidance Center. The center was stronger because of him and as a columnist, we will always cherish the insight he brought to every story he wrote.”

Future Executive Director Andrew Malekoff got his start with the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center as an intern in 1977

Malekoff’s path to a career in social work wasn’t readily apparent in the beginning. Born in Newark, he moved to the leafy Jersey suburb of Maplewood, eventually going to Rutgers University on a football scholarship as a linebacker, eventually being one of the two defensive captains of the 1972 Scarlet Knights football team. And while he earned a bachelor of arts in business, the idea of serving others came via work with volunteer organizations, first at Rutgers and then following his university graduation.


“When I was attending Rutgers University. I joined something called Rutgers Community Action, which was sort of a Big Brothers-type program,” he said. “That was my first exposure that I had to anything that would be considered close to social work. I majored in economics and thought I would go into business. [Social work] wasn’t anything I pursued. After trying a few different things after college, I joined VISTA, which is Volunteers In Service To America, which is the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps. I went out to Grand Island, NE, where I lived and worked in a Mexican-American community for about three years. It was during the course of my work with teenagers and families there that I decided that I wanted to pursue this as a career.”

Having spent 45 years helping families and youth get through trauma, one thing Malekoff says hasn’t changed is the anxiety and depression young people continue to experience. For him, these experiences require quite a bit of self forgiveness for the people going through these trials and tribulations.


“It’s a harsh world and it’s easy to be too hard on yourself,” he said. “Anthropologist Joseph Campbell came up with a favorite quote of mine ‘Perfection is not lovable. It’s the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person lovable. It’s something that’s a little longer than go easy on yourself. I give that out because sometimes I think people can be too hard on themselves and think that they have to be perfect. It’s a great lesson for parents and for parents to give to kids. It doesn’t mean you don’t try to hard or strive for excellence. It means you go a little bit easier on yourself than otherwise.”

Top photo: from left: North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center board member Rita Castagna, North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center Executive Director Andrew Malekoff and Anton Media Group publisher Angela Anton

Guidance Center Hosts Shopping Benefit in Roslyn Village, Anton, April 28, 2021

Guidance Center Hosts Shopping Benefit in Roslyn Village, Anton, April 28, 2021

On Tuesday, May 4, you can do good while shopping for some of the finest goods around as North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center hosts “Care for Kids: Spring Shopping Spree.” Many of Roslyn Village’s best stores will be donating a portion of the day’s proceeds to the Guidance Center, Long Island’s premiere children’s mental health nonprofit organization.

As of April 21, the stores participating in the event are: Jill Scherer Ltd., Katherine Tess, Shag New York and Transitions, but the Guidance Center expects the list to grow significantly leading up to the May 4 event.

Leslie Cohen, owner of Transitions, has been a Guidance Center supporter for several years.
“The organization is easy to get behind and support, especially this year, with so many children being affected by the pandemic,” Cohen said. “Having a safe place to help the children cope is wonderful.”
She added that the Spring Shopping Spree will be “a feel-good day.”

According to Ann Corn, owner of Shag New York, nothing is more important than the health of our children.
“Mental health issues do not discriminate by race or financial backgrounds,” she said. “Shag is especially proud to be part of this fantastic fundraising day for the Guidance Center. We are honored to be involved with this amazing organization.”

Alexis Siegel, a member of the Guidance Center’s Board of Directors, expressed the agency’s gratitude for the generosity of participating Roslyn store owners.
“We are all so lucky to live in an area where our businesses and community members are so philanthropic,” Siegel said. “They understand the importance of supporting our work to bring hope and healing to kids and families who are struggling with issues such as depression and anxiety during these incredibly challenging times.”
Shoppers can visit the Guidance Center booth outside of Shag to take part in a raffle that will include many exclusive items.
For more information about the event, contact the Guidance Center at 516-626-1971, ext. 320.

Celebrating the Holidays During the pandemic, Anton Media, Dec. 28 2020

Celebrating the Holidays During the pandemic, Anton Media, Dec. 28 2020

The holiday season is fully upon us, but this year’s celebrations will be unlike any we’ve ever experienced. Typically, our calendars are full of events, whether they are parties with colleagues or friends, visits with the kids to meet Santa, festive holiday concerts or a variety of other joyous occasions. But with the pandemic surging, many of these well-loved traditions have been canceled.

It’s been a very difficult and unprecedented time in our history. People are tired of being cooped up at home; they’re exhausted from feeling afraid. They miss being with friends and family. Bottom line: We all want our “normal” lives back—a perfectly understandable desire, especially this time of year.

While the pandemic and all the uncertainty has been extremely taxing on all of us, it’s even harder on our children. No birthday parties, graduations, proms, playdates or vacations. Worries about the health of their loved ones. Difficulty adapting to remote schooling. Financial insecurity. And around the holidays, the loss of family gatherings. It’s a lot of trauma for youngsters to handle.

The good news is, as a parent or caregiver, you can take some concrete steps to help your kids cope with the losses and changes we face this season.
First, be sure to plan ahead for the holidays as a family so that you don’t have a sense of anxiety looming. Give everyone the chance to have input into the agenda, so they can become comfortable with the plans and work out their feelings. In a world that seems so unpredictable, let them know what they can count on.

Each family has its own comfort level in terms of what they deem safe and acceptable. When you, as the adult, have made those decisions, convey that plan to your children—for example, we can visit outdoors with Grandma and Grandpa, but only if we wear our masks and stay six feet apart. Knowing the rules is important, especially since other families may have rules that are different from your own.

Recognize that your kids are likely to feel sad, angry and disappointed, and let them express those emotions. If they tell you some form of “This isn’t fair!” or “This stinks!” acknowledge that those feelings are normal and even healthy.

Also, while your parental instinct may be to focus on “fixing” the problem, that often isn’t what your children need. Instead, focus on listening, validating and empathizing with them. This is also a good opportunity for you to model appropriate expression of feelings and healthy coping skills.

Schedule some Zoom time with the relatives and friends you cannot be with in person this year. Of course, it’s not a replacement for a real hug, but it does allow for a genuine connection with the people your children love.
While many of our family traditions are on hold, this is a great time to create some new ones. Ask your kids for suggestions on new activities so they’ll feel a sense of ownership of the day. Some possibilities: A family hike, new board game or a classic like charades, holiday crafts, photo albums, karaoke or baking for neighbors.

Final thought: While your children are experiencing a sense of loss, it may help them feel better to do something that helps others. Perhaps they can choose a charity to give their loose change to or make handmade thank you lawn signs or cards for frontline responders.

Wishing you and yours a happy, safe and healthy holiday season.

Dr. Sue Cohen is the Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis or in person when deemed necessary. Call 516-626-1971 to make an appointment.

Cooling Relief For Westbury Families, Anton Media, September 29, 2020

Cooling Relief For Westbury Families, Anton Media, September 29, 2020

Seven families in the Westbury/New Cassel community have weathered the heat waves this summer, thanks to some devoted North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center supporters.

Two of the women behind this effort—Dr. Betty Hylton and Marian Williams—are longtime members of the Leeds Place Advisory Council, and also members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Pi Pi Omega chapter. Since 1987, the women of Pi Pi Omega have been helping the Westbury/New Cassel community in numerous ways, and the Guidance Center and its clients have been among the beneficiaries of their generosity.

Hylton reached out to the Guidance Center’s Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust asking how Pi Pi Omega could help. Taylor-Walthrust immediately thought of the seniors who take part in C-GRASP, the Guidance Center’s Caregiver Grandparent Respite and Support Program, which provides support to grandparents who are the primary caregivers of their grandchildren. The program is a partnership with Project Independence from the Town of North Hempstead’s Department of Services for the Aging, which serves seniors through the township.

“I was concerned because many of the seniors sought relief during the hot summers at the Yes We Can Community Center, but with the coronavirus, they had no place to shelter,” said Taylor-Walthrust, who identified seven families in need.

Dr. Hylton suggested she call Marian Williams.

“I asked if the Pi Pi Omega chapter could buy fans for them, but Marian said, ‘Why don’t we get them air conditioners?’ ” Taylor-Walthrust related.

The Pi Pi Omega chapter only had enough money to purchase three new air conditioners, but Williams, along with her daughter and son-in-law, bought the four remaining air conditioners to ensure everyone’s comfort and safety.

“When I woke up the morning we were delivering the three air conditioners, I thought about the heat wave and how these four other families really needed them,” says Williams. “As a former social worker, my passion all my life is to help those in need, so I couldn’t let anyone be left out. When you are blessed, you need to bless other people.”

Sorority sister Elvira Daniels also was instrumental in the effort.

Marie Dextra, a Guidance Center C-GRASP client, says the donation of the air conditioner is making a big difference in her family’s life.

“All of us are now able to sleep better at night,” Dextra said. “I’m so thankful to all the people who made this happen.”

—Submitted by the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

Guidance Center Launches Suicide Prevention Project, Sept. 1, 2020

Guidance Center Launches Suicide Prevention Project, Sept. 1, 2020

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that the nonprofit organization received a Community Development Block Grant from Nassau County for $147,500 to support its work serving Long Island’s communities during the pandemic crisis.

“During this most troubling and stressful time for so many families of all backgrounds, we are grateful to Nassau County for awarding us a Community Development Block Grant COVID grant,” said Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center. “It could not have come at a better time. We are seeing an increase in young people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, are at risk for suicide and other self-harming behaviors, and cannot afford to be placed on a waiting list. This funding supports our ability to offer a rapid response and quality mental health care for all families who need us regardless of their ability to pay.”

Nassau County distributed nearly $2.5 million in federal CDBG-COVID funding to 12 non-profit partners and nine municipalities across Nassau County to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety, and accessibility upgrades for local community centers.

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, August 18, 2020

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, August 18, 2020

The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that the nonprofit organization received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from Nassau County for $147,500 to support its work serving Long Island’s communities during the pandemic crisis.

“During this most troubling and stressful time for so many families of all backgrounds, we are grateful to Nassau County for awarding us a Community Development Block Grant COVID grant,” Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center, said. “It could not have come at a better time. We are seeing an increase in young people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, are at risk for suicide and other self-harming behaviors, and cannot afford to be placed on a waiting list. This funding supports our ability to offer a rapid response and quality mental health care for all families who need us regardless of their ability to pay.”

Nassau County distributed nearly $2.5 million in federal CDBG-COVID funding to 12 nonprofit partners and nine municipalities across Nassau County to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety, and accessibility upgrades for local community centers.

North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.

Celebrating the Holidays During the pandemic, Anton Media, Dec. 28 2020

Powering Through an Outage, Parenting Plus, by Sue Cohen, August 17, 2020

On Tuesday, Aug.p 4, heavy wind and rain from Tropical Storm Isaias hit much of the east coast. More than 2 million customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost power as a result of the storm’s impact. One week later, some are still in the dark.

While power outages are always frustrating, the situation was made much more difficult with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of people are working from home and are dependent on their power, WiFi and phone services to be able to do so. With the cancellation of many summer programs and activities, lots of kids are bored at home already, and without power, they lose much of the entertainment they rely on so heavily.

As Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, I’ve seen how COVID-19 and social distancing protocols have reduced or even eliminated many opportunities for respite, such as staying at the home of a friend or relative who has power. All your usual options that can help in an outage aren’t necessarily there.

It is crucial that parents do their best to remain calm, as your children will model their own behavior from you. When you lose it, they will do the same—and, fortunately, the opposite is true, too.

Before the next outage hits, take preventative actions by creating power outage kits for the entire family. These should include necessities such as flashlights, batteries, nonperishable food and water, but also off-the-grid activities for the family to participate in together. In our digital world, it is especially important for children to find engaging activities that do not take place on a screen. Power outages provide an opportunity to introduce these experiences to your children and remind them of the need to disconnect every so often.

Though it can be hard to find anything positive that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have mastered the act of improvisation. For months, they’ve learned how to entertain anxious children and navigate uncertainty. While power outages can be difficult, they offer yet another opportunity to spend quality time with your children and to explore new activities.

Parents need to take a step back and try to think outside of the box. Power outages have provided the foundation for some of my most treasured memories. One time, my daughter wanted to bake cookies, but due to the power outage, she attempted to make them on a pancake griddle. Though the cookies may not have turned out as good as usual, the memory is one that always brings a smile.

Parents should also attempt to find the positive in this situation. Just as your children should try different, off-the-grid activities, you should do the same. It’s easy to slip back into the

smartphone-focused world we usually live in. Use this opportunity to establish small habits such as daily reading or writing time or meditation exercises that can bring calm to your day.

Younger children may enjoy hands-on activities such as making crafts, going on a scavenger hunt, putting on a puppet show or playing dress up. Older children can get lost in a book, engage in healthy competition in a board game or learn card games.

No matter the season, power outages are difficult for families to deal with, but when they occur alongside a pandemic and a heat wave, they are even more challenging. However, this experience may serve as a teaching moment for parents and kids to learn the benefits of unplugging and finding enjoyment in the simple things in life.

Dr. Sue Cohen is the Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971.

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, August 18, 2020

Guidance Center Grant Supports Children’s Mental Health, Anton Media, August 18, 2020

The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center is pleased to announce that the nonprofit organization received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from Nassau County for $147,500 to support its work serving Long Island’s communities during the pandemic crisis.

“During this most troubling and stressful time for so many families of all backgrounds, we are grateful to Nassau County for awarding us a Community Development Block Grant COVID grant,” Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the Guidance Center, said. “It could not have come at a better time. We are seeing an increase in young people who are experiencing depression and anxiety, are at risk for suicide and other self-harming behaviors, and cannot afford to be placed on a waiting list. This funding supports our ability to offer a rapid response and quality mental health care for all families who need us regardless of their ability to pay.”

Nassau County distributed nearly $2.5 million in federal CDBG-COVID funding to 12 nonprofit partners and nine municipalities across Nassau County to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety, and accessibility upgrades for local community centers.

North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island, is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.