The Jewish Family Service of MetroWest is greatly expanding its mental health services to adolescents, thanks to a grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.
The one-year, $94,400 grant will be used to support the needs of youth between the ages of 12 and 18, including individual and family counseling, workshops in schools, community-wide parent education programs, volunteer opportunities, and support groups.
According to JFS, “With increased capacity for addressing the needs of ‘typical’ teens, teens exposed to trauma and those with special needs, the agency aims to help adolescents develop the tools to achieve their potential and help parents to maintain healthy families.”
Among the new acivities will be three new groups, each dedicated to addressing specific needs for youth 12 – 18.
Currently, JFS counsels between 10 and 20 teenagers each week in individual sessions. But Reuben Rotman, executive director of the agency, said the needs of the area’s teens and preteens are far greater.
“To have 10 to 20 kids in individual treatment is not sufficient for a community of this size, and schools are saying, ‘We need you. We can’t address all these issue alone. We need your consultation. We need your support,’” Rotman told NJ Jewish News during a Sept. 9 meeting in his Florham Park office.
One program is aimed at assisting teenagers who are involved in “high-conflict or domestic violence relationships,” said Robyn Krugman, JFS coordinator of adolescent services.
Working with domestic abuse professionals at the Rachel Coalition, the group will address the needs of “children who are involved in or exposed to abusive or violent relationships and are often in need of assistance in understanding healthy types of relationships,” she said. “They need to protect their parents and learn safety planning and understand how their relationships at home affect their relationships in school.”
A second group will work in partnership with MetroWest ABLE, a network for people with disabilities and their families, to counsel teenagers who have siblings with significant disabilities.
The third cohort is called the “Strong Girls Group.” Its intent is “to strengthen self-esteem and social relationships and help girls ages 12-14 to build better lives for themselves,” said Krugman. It is scheduled to begin sessions on Oct. 13 at the JFS headquarters.
JFS is also working with JCC MetroWest to build a program for LGBT teenagers, as well as “those who question their sexuality and those who may be transgendered,” said Krugman. “It is first going to start as a parenting night dealing with sexuality very broadly, and then our hope is to fine tune it.”
Creating groups whose members have different racial, religious, and economic backgrounds is a key goal in their formation, Rotman said. His agency has already been working with students from schools as disparate as the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and the public Burnet Hill Elementary School, both in Livingston. The agency is also making connections at Columbia High School in Maplewood-South Orange.
JFS continues seeking referrals from teachers, school guidance counselors, pediatricians, and parents, as well as tapping into interest from students themselves.
Its social workers are especially concerned with helping teens and their parents cope with such “hot topics” as sexuality and gender, substance abuse, relationships and dating, and how parents and teenagers navigate those issues. Newer challenges include bullying and addiction to technology.
“It is important for parents to open those communications and create healthy relationships,” said Sara Mendez Emma, clinical director of children and adolescent services at JFS.
Another portion of the grant will be used to foster volunteer service opportunities for teens. “We want to be a resource for them and help them find volunteer opportunities in their communities,” said Rotman. “For many teens it is a very healthy part of their development and their interacting with other people.”
The Healthcare Foundation of NJ was established in 1996 with assets from the sale of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
The grant to JFS “rounds out the agency’s capacity to address the needs of children of all ages, typical teens and those exposed to trauma, as well as those with special needs,” wrote Marsha Atkind, the foundation’s executive director, in an e-mail. “It will enable JFS to help adolescents develop the tools to achieve their potential and help parents maintain healthy families.”
For further information contact Krugman at 973 – 637-1749.
Correction: A previous version of this article did not sufficiently describe the scope of a grant from the Healthcare Foundation of NJ to Jewish Family Service of MetroWest for expanding its mental health services to adolescents. The article has been updated to reflect the additional activities.