The following community resource can be especially helpful for children with mental health issues and their families. However, these services are available to other families as well.
Name of program: Lutheran Social Service -- Lakes Area Youth Programs, Youth and Family Mentoring.
Scope of program: Lutheran Social Service works extensively with youths who are considered to be at high risk. Programs serving Minnesota youths currently include: seven crisis shelters (including the Baxter Youth Shelter serving youths in a multi-county area around Brainerd-Baxter), three street outreach programs and several transitional housing programs. Most have been in existence six or more years.
LSS maintains a formal statewide network of programs serving children and youths of which there are subgroups of similar programs.
Since 1997, the Lakes Area Youth and Family Mentoring Program has provided mentoring services for approximately 200 Crow Wing County youths who are truant, severely emotionally disturbed or at risk of delinquency or out-of-home placement because of a lack of structured time and/or healthy adult relationships.
Funding and support for LSS Youth and Family Mentoring comes from a number of community resources, such as the Family Services Collaborative, Crow Wing County Children's Mental Health Local Advisory Council, Crow Wing County Social Services, St. Joseph's Medical Center Foundation, Crow Wing Power and Community Asset Builders. Numerous Brainerd area individuals and businesses also have contributed time, money, event tickets, recreational opportunities, talent, etc., to make this program a success.
Mentors assist youths with homework; spend time with family members to address communication, problem solving and decision making; spend time with the youth or family doing various recreational and leisure activities; and act as positive role models in building on strengths and enhancing assets through caring and supportive relationships.
Mentoring relationships for truant youths are established for a 12-week period, while mentoring relationships that are not time limited are established for other at-risk youths and families. Successful matching of mentors and families has resulted in a number of long-term mentoring relationships.
Currently, 25 of the mentoring relationships have been stable for more than a year. The program has demonstrated successful outcomes in minimal out-of-home placements or child protection reports, and decreased truancy rates and court involvement.
Who it's for: The Youth and Family Mentoring Program is for Crow Wing County families and youths who have assets they want to build on. The participants are working to provide a stable and secure future for themselves and/or their children. While some of the youth participants are struggling to gain an education basic to a bright future, others are dealing with family crisis, such as the loss of a parent.
The parents involved in the program are trying hard to meet the needs of their children and can tap into the support and insight that a mentor provides as a useful tool in successful parenting. These parents want to give their children security, structure and consistency so they grow to be happy, successful adults.
Who's involved in providing and implementing the program:
Families and youths are referred to us primarily through the school Family Service Collaborative workers. Mentors are individuals who want to make a contribution to the people in our community. They have the ability to recognize and nurture the strengths of our families and youths, are creative and constructive problem solvers, and care for our community's families.
Some work in a mental health or human service job, others are college students, experienced parents or simply concerned neighbors. LSS Youth and Family Mentoring has a full-time coordinator who meets monthly with each mentor and arranges training, social and recreational activities for the mentors, families and youths.
What participants are saying (names have been changed): One parent said: "I think it's great. It's a Godsend for Tanya. Someone else she can trust outside of the family."
The parent reported that the mentor calls and talks with Tanya, in addition to taking Tanya on a number of activities, such as helping at the Soup Kitchen.
Tanya's dad said Tanya is more willing to open up and talk with someone outside the family. He said schoolteachers are telling him she is friendlier and now has friends at school. He said the mentor is great with Tanya and has helped her talk through some stressful situations.
A program mentor relates this story: "I began seeing Jenny in October of 2002. She, along with her mother, met with me at Brainerd High School and we all signed the Truancy Mentor Contract. Jenny had missed several classes because of a situation over another girl who was no longer attending the high school. The other girl was coming into the school and threatening to 'beat her up' and similar events. She even had another student in Jenny's second-hour class continue with the harassment.
"Jenny was scared and didn't know how to deal with this. She would get so upset that she would get sick and go home from school, excused or not. She discussed the problem some with her mother but communication wasn't very good and nothing got done.
"As her mentor I immediately addressed the problem. I talked to her mother about what she should do to get rid of the problem. I talked with Jenny about what she should do and together we reported everything to the school. After only a couple of weeks the girl left Jenny alone, as well as her 'hired' help in class.
"Jenny remained with only some issues with her mother. We addressed the issues and I contacted her mother. Things were worked out and now Jenny enjoys her classes and school and she doesn't miss anymore. Jenny will be off the program in just a couple of weeks. I only see her once or twice a week to say 'hi!' and 'how are you today?' and she does the rest. She needed a mentor to get her past these obstacles. Now she is getting the most of her education."
For more information: If you would like to learn more about the Youth and Family Mentor Program or other Lakes Area Youth Services offered by Lutheran Social Service such as Rock Sober, the Youth Internship Program, Youth Outreach, the Runaway/Homeless Program or Baxter Youth Shelter, contact Ellen at 828-4399.
(This spotlight on children's mental health is sponsored by the Crow Wing County Local Advisory Council on Children's Mental Health.)
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