The following is a letter to the editor from Susan Smahl, director of special services for the Secaucus Board of Education, on the Teen Screen program. [Resident Cathy De Sciscio expressed concerns about the program earlier this month.]
To the editor:
In a response to concerns last year from a united community about the emotional well being of the adolescent and young adult population, the Secaucus School district implemented several programs under the guidance of the professionals at the Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth Progam at UBHC.
District personnel that included social workers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, teachers and administrators worked diligently to bring information to students and parents that would help to address emotional concerns.
During the school year, students were shown age-appropriate instructional films followed up by small group discussions about depression at the secondary level, or participated in lessons about feelings at the elementary level.
Additionally, through a collaboration with Mayor Gonnelli’s office, the representatives from the Traumatic Loss Coalition presented a suicide awareness program to the community at the Recreation Center and again to middle and high school parents at the PAC center.
The school district offered counseling to students and even families to address loss, when appropriate. High School students were chosen to participate in a peer leadership program, “Sources of Strength.” The district also decided to implement the Teen Screen program during the 2011/2012 school year at the recommendation of UBHC and the counselors affiliated with the Traumatic Loss Coalition (TLC).
The Teen Screen Program offers the opportunity through research-based methodology of identifying when students were at risk for depression so, if identified, they could immediately be referred for the appropriate level of care. It was recommended by Teen Screen that the district select one grade to begin with the process with and expand the program over time, with grade 10 being an optimal starting point.
The screening progam at the High School is for referral purposes, not diagnosis. Any medical diagnosis must be made be a medical doctor or psychotherapist the student is referred to.
Professionals at the school district consulted the staff at Columbia University prior to considering the program, and then had to submit information to TeenScreen staff that met certain standards and criteria.
The plan must include signed consent from parents as well as “assent” from students (the student must be willing to participate). No student may be screened without these consents.
Participation in the program is voluntary. We must have a list of participating therapists available to refer students to on a sliding scale basis. Students are to be screened by trained personnel in small groups with privacy a priority. The screening tool and protocol have been developed by Columbia University and used successfully in other school districts.
There is no fee to the district for the Teen Screen program, it is provided free of charge by the Columbia University Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
In addition to the screening program, Teen Screen offers a myriad of web-based resources on mental health for schools, students and families.
If you have questions about the program, please call Jill Preis, student assistance coordinator, at 201-553-6883, or me at 201-974-2068.