Peer problems to family concerns: Kids in Crisis program talks the talk

Appearing before the Board of Selectmen to discuss the Kids in Crisis program were, from left, Youth Commission Chairwoman Denise Qualey, RHS Kids in Crisis counselor Ashley Adamson, and RHS Principal Stacey Gross. — Macklin Reid photo

Appearing before the Board of Selectmen to discuss the Kids in Crisis program were, from left, Youth Commission Chairwoman Denise Qualey, RHS Kids in Crisis counselor Ashley Adamson, and RHS Principal Stacey Gross. — Macklin Reid photo

Three students came for suicidal thoughts. One had a “self harm” safety crisis. One reported suffering from “physical abuse or neglect.” Another had an eating disorder. Four were troubled by substance abuse. Those were among the difficulties that brought 109 kids at Ridgefield High School to the Kids in Crisis “teen talk” counselor during the last school year.

Of the students who saw RHS teen talk counselor Ashley Adamson, eight students were “currently experiencing trauma” that ranged from the death of a loved one to sexual assault, an “unsafe or unstable environment” or the effects of a natural disaster.

Talks with troubled RHS students increased 56% from 2014-15 to 2015-16, with 109 different students meeting with Adamson 662 times.

A report on the program was presented at the Board of Selectmen’s Nov. 16 meeting. Adamson, who’s in her second year as RHS’s teen talk counselor, was joined by High School Principal Stacey Gross and Youth Commission Chairwoman Denise Qualey, who is the managing director of crisis and clinical services for the Greenwich-based Kids in Crisis organization.

“One of the things I’ve been impressed with at RHS: Kids take their education and their mental health seriously, and they self-advocate,” Adamson said.

“I’ve been lucky to work with Kids in Crisis in two different districts,” said Gross. “They’ve done fantastic things for the kids of Ridgefield.”

Kids are dealing with many problems.

“A lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, substance abuse,” Gross said. “There are things around gender identity and sexual identity these days.”

The selectmen and Qualey spoke of trying to expand the program to Ridgefield’s two middle schools, but no specifics were put forward. Marconi said expanding the program to the middle schools seemed like a valuable goal, but the town would be limited in the coming year by a 2.5% cap on the growth of municipal budgets, which had previously been voted in by the state legislature and is due to take effect in the coming budget year.

Presenting problems

The report detailed the “presenting problems” that brought students to the counselor. For 24 students, the presenting problem was a “peer problem or peer conflict.” Four students reported ”social impairment” with peers. And three students reported peer problems related to social media.

Fourteen students came in for school problems in the “academic challenges” category. Seven had “disruptive behavior” issues. Three had attendance problems and one came in for “other” school problems.

Among students coming in for “family problems,” 11 discussed “conflict within the family,” two discussed family “health/illness” problems, and another two came to talk about “parent instability.”

Students who saw the counselor to discuss their own “mental health” included 13 students with “anxiety,” six with depression, three discussing “other” mental health issues, three who had suicidal thoughts, one who was assessed for a self-harm safety crisis, six who spoke about “grief or loss,” four who were in for “substance abuse,” one for “physical abuse/neglect,” and one for an “eating disorder.”

Of the 109 students, Adamson had repeat visits with 69. And she met with students’ parents or guardians 146 times.

The selectmen underwrite the $75,000 teen talk counselor’s position, partly on the theory that some students may be more willing to share problems with a counselor who doesn’t work for the school system.

“There are parents and students who aren’t 100% comfortable speaking with school staff,” Gross said. “Having a Kids in Crisis counselor brings a slightly higher level of privacy.”

Of the students meeting with Adamson, 70 were girls and 39 were boys.

Kids used the teen talk counselor more in the earlier grades of high school: 39 were freshmen, 36 were sophomores, 22 were juniors, and 12 were seniors.

Of 24 students who filled out follow-up surveys, 10 said they felt “much better” since starting to meet with the teen talk counselor and 14 said they felt “a little better.”

Additional issues

In addition to the “presenting problem” that brought students in, the teen talk counselor identified a wide range of “additional issues” in her discussions with students. These included anxiety (11 students), social media problems (nine students), depression (eight), academic problems (seven), self-harm concerns (six), substance abuse (six), disruptive behavior (five), family conflict (four), suicidal thoughts (four), grief or loss (four), peer conflict (three), school attendance (three), student mental health (three), self-harm (three), parent instability (two), family health or illness (two), sexual abuse (two), social impairment with peers (one), family mental health (one), substance abuse in family (one), sexual orientation (one), gender identity (one), and sexual health/pregnancy (one).

Of the students who met with Adamson, 76 had their issues “resolved with counseling”; 16 were “connected to a higher level of care”; three were listed for ongoing counseling or follow-up; and 13 students “ended contact” with the counselor.

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