YSB’s Expansion of Chemical Health Services in Surrounding School Districts

By Julia Geigle, MSW, LGSW, Chemical Health Prevention Specialist to ISD 834 and Program Supervisor

Having accessible chemical health support for families and students in the school is pivotal to the holistic development of students. According to nearly two decades of CASA research (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University), teens see drugs as the number one problem they face and parents’ worst nightmare is that their child will develop an addiction to substances or suffer devastating consequences from their use.

Additionally, the total societal cost of substance abuse in the United States is estimated to be over half trillion ($511 billion) dollars annually. Preventing and reducing youth tobacco, alcohol, and drug use improves quality of life, social and emotional development, academic performance, attendance, classroom behaviors, and peer/peer and peer/teacher interactions.

School districts often recognize that chemical use and abuse adversely affects a student’s physical, social, and emotional development and they want to share in the responsibility of addressing this issue.

To support the efforts of preventing and reducing youth chemical use, Stillwater Area Public Schools (Independent School District (ISD) 834) has partnered with YSB. Since 2006, YSB has been providing ISD 834 with a Chemical Health Specialist who has offered chemical health services that focus on prevention, education, and support.

Starting August 1, 2017, YSB will employ three additional Chemical Health Specialists and extend services to North St. Paul, Maplewood, and Oakdale Public Schools (ISD 622) and South Washington County Public Schools (ISD 833), in addition to continuing to serve ISD 834.

To intentionally provide support along the continuum of care from health promotion and substance abuse prevention to intervention and support, two of the Chemical Health Specialists will be prevention-focused and the other two will be direct-service focused, providing individual, group, and parent chemical health supports.

All four Chemical Health Specialists are competent, experienced, and have passion and enthusiasm for working with young people and the greater community in the area of chemical health. Julia Geigle (MSW, LGSW), will continue to serve ISD 834, as she has been for over three years, with a more intentional focus on prevention. Ashley Rome (LADC) will provide both direct chemical health support and prevention services to ISD 622.  ISD 833 will have two full-time YSB Chemical Health Specialists; Jessica Johannes (LADC, LPCC), a direct service provider, and Regina (Gina) Johnson (BS), a prevention specialist.   

Chemical health support in the schools has shown to be considerably successful when reflecting on YSB’s long history of providing chemical health supports in ISD 834. Students are allowed the opportunity to seek out support from an adult in a safe, nonjudgmental setting. A need that humans have is connection and sometimes individuals use substances to fill the void that disconnection causes in their lives. Addiction is also an isolating and lonely disease. Having individual and group support allows kids to connect on a real and meaningful level. Chemical health support groups are a place where students can go to both get and give support, hold each other accountable, and provide hope for each other. Many of these students who have received chemical health services may have not be able to access outside resources due to financial and transportation barriers. Additionally, parents are able to access these services. They’ve been able to get support around having conversations with their kids in a way that invites dialogue, framing conversations against the backdrop of love and respect, while also being empowered to hold their kids accountable. The Chemical Health Specialist has helped parents navigate outside resources such as treatment options and therapy.

There are many, many anecdotes of students, parents, and staff praising the chemical health services and experiencing success as a result of the support. In addition to stories, YSB demonstrates the positive impact of these services by using research-based tools to measure outcomes. YSB has used various tools throughout the years to assess progress such as the POSIT (Problem Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers). However, YSB continually strives to perfect the ways impact is assessed. Currently, YSB is consulting with experts in program evaluation to find a better evidence-based tool that can also be used as a therapeutic tool with the provider and the youth.

Chemical health is an ongoing issue for our society. At the same time, the good news is that the majority of Washington and Ramsey County kids are making healthy decisions and there is already prevention and support work happening. YSB is proud to serve ISD 622, 833, and 834 to prevent and reduce youth chemical use by supporting and strengthening the health and wellness of not only individuals and families, but also the greater school community and collaborating with these districts to be a leader in promoting positive well-being!

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