One of the many organizations that donates thousands of volunteer hours to benefit the people of St. Tammany has founded a new program to help parents help their children.
The Junior Auxiliary of Slidell organized a breakfast for community leaders last year, to learn more about the needs of people on the north shore. The women of JA heard from elected officials, and from leaders in both business and charity. One such briefing became a project that the entire civic group has embraced.
The idea for “Know Your Child” was launched that day, after St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 1 Chief Chris Kaufmann said he yearned for more of a proactive effort to assist troubled adolescents and teenagers in the area. Kaufmann remarked on the number of calls to which his department responds that involve young adults who are mired in depression, substance abuse, and even are contemplating suicide.
Now, “Know Your Child” is about to be fully introduced to the people of east St. Tammany Parish. Its early popularity appears to have piqued the interest of many in western St. Tammany, where the project could expand in coming months.
With JA spearheading the project, members raised $1,000 to produce several thousand informative brochures which explain to parents the potential warning signs for dangerous behavior. Also listed in the brochures is information on local resources available to parents should they believe or confirm that a problem exists.
A news conference to announce the new program was hosted recently and included members of JA and Fire District 1; as well as representatives from the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office, the St. Tammany Parish Public School System, the National Alliance on Mental Illness-St. Tammany, the Youth Service Bureau, and more.
Each group was asked to participate as they work with young people often, and are among the first line of responders concerning mental health issues.
JA members Sharon Hewitt and Loretta Duckett are co-chairwomen of the Know Your Child initiative.
Hewitt said the first Know Your Child flyers were distributed at a recent event promoting girls’ health at Slidell Memorial Hospital.
She said the entire program, which included guest speakers touting the brochures and speaking to parents about the warning signs to identify in children, was met with “overwhelming response.”
“The feedback was amazing,” she said. “Mental health issues occur in every community. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or where you live. That’s why it’s important for us to be proactive; to get in front of this thing.”
Know Your Child committee members are planning where to place brochures. Committee members have identified doctors’ offices, schools, and other spots where adults congregate as sites where they’d like to see the fliers.
Martha Benson, the NAMI-St. Tammany Program Coordinator, said the number of mental health issues across the U.S. remains reason for concern. One in four adults will deal with a mental health issue each year, and 1 in 10 children will experience a similar health problem that necessitates treatment each year. She also noted that 75 percent of mental health issues begin in adolescence.
St. Tammany is among the Louisiana parishes that have the highest rate of mental health issues. Benson said there were 12 suicides in the parish in the first 10 weeks of 2015.
“That’s why it’s so important to identify early problems that may go unrecognized by parents,” Benson said. “It could be a young person’s activity on social media or being bullied. Those are things that parents may not know about. All the statistics show that the earlier you can have intervention, the better things can be. If ignored, the long-term consequences can be devastating.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Benson said.
For information on the Know Your Child program and local mental health resources for children and adults, go to the project’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/knowyourchild sttammany.