Challenges, including cyberbullying and substance abuse, face King County youths
October 25, 2011
King County children and teenagers face risks from underage drinking, substance abuse, cyberbullying and other challenges, human services experts told County Council members Oct. 10.
The council — meeting as the Committee of the Whole — listened to presentations about possible threats to young people.
“To hear what young people are going through in our communities in a real wake-up call,” council Vice Chairwoman Jane Hague said in a statement issued after the meeting. “These issues aren’t isolated to a specific area of King County. Even affluent areas have their own set of risk factors.”
Youth Eastside Services Executive Director Patti Skelton-McGougan discussed problems related to suicide, gangs and cyberbullying in Eastside communities.
In response to increased cyberbullying incidents, Youth Eastside Services launched Peers Educating And Coaching Empathy, or PEACE — a program designed so children can teach other children about bullying and how to stop the problem.
Issaquah Middle School students attracted national attention in April for posting lewd messages and photos about a classmate on Facebook. The girls responsible for the incident had to complete court-ordered community service.
“As community leaders, we must work together and remain vigilant in our efforts to raise awareness of the challenges facing our youth here in King County,” said Jim Vallendroff, assistant division director for the county Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division.
The council also heard about Mercer Island’s anti-underage-drinking program. The effort, called Most of Us, is designed to correct misperceptions about underage alcohol use.
Most of Us is considered a model for anti-underage-drinking programs in other King County cities.
“Prevention works and we look forward to continuing our work with other King County communities to further reduce levels of underage drinking,” said Cynthia Goodwin, Mercer Island Department of Youth and Family Services director.
The recession has prompted county leaders to cut substance abuse prevention and treatment programs. State funding for such programs in King County has dropped by $14.5 million.
“Because young people who begin using before age 15 are six times as likely to develop a substance abuse problem than those who delay use until age 21, we must keep our youth engaged and model positive behavior,” Vallendroff said. “Parents are the primary influence on their children’s decision to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”
In late August, the county joined local nonprofit organizations to offer a refuge for youths in crisis. The council received a briefing about the partnership among the local groups and Safe Place — a national nonprofit organization formed to create community safety nets for young people in crisis.
Metro Transit and service agencies — including Friends of Youth — joined to create the largest Safe Place partner in Washington.
The purpose of the program is to put the necessary community resources in place to aid young people quickly and decrease the potential for harm.
(Friends of Youth operates a counseling center along Front Street North in downtown Issaquah.)
Through the program, if a young person in crisis needs help, all he or she has to do is approach a Metro Transit bus driver and say, “I need a safe place.” The driver places a call to trigger contact to a youth service provider. The organization then arranges to meet and transport the youth to safety.
“What we heard today was very informative and compelling,” Hague said. “Briefings like these serve as a launch pad for detailed discussions on how we can better address these types problems in King County. Our children are always a priority.”