Challenges, including cyberbullying and substance abuse, face King County youths

October 25, 2011

By Staff

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.”

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2 Responses to “Challenges, including cyberbullying and substance abuse, face King County youths”

  1. David Simpson on October 26th, 2011 6:19 am

    Making parents responsible for kids who drink is the most foolish and arrogant proposal I ever heard.

    It is brought into action by parents who coddle their children and are overbearing. They spoil their kids, run their lives and take complete control over their children. They are also the ones most likely to experience the wrath of the law they wish to implement.

    Those who don’t learn from history are the ones most likely to repeat it!

    Growing up is something that every child must do. Parents try their best, and sometimes it isn’t good enough… But that doesn’t mean you throw in jail!

    Mercer Island has the lowest crime rate around, AND NOW WE LOOK TO PUNISH THE PARENTS FOR THAT!! What lunatic came up with this idea??

  2. Gina on October 26th, 2011 10:35 am

    I agree with many of these proposals. In regards to underage drinking, let’s stop cutting teenagers so much slack. By the time they reach their teen years, they know right from wrong and drinking underage is AGAINST THE LAW. They should be punished for breaking the law and if parents are held more accountable, it could cut down on problems. On the cyberbullying issue, that sort of thing is out of control. I recently saw the ABC Family movie on cyberbullying and there is an increase in suicides and other problems because of this cowardly form of bullying. I do think parents should be more aware of the types of technology and websites their kids are getting on, but there is no way to keep them completely from it. Also even if your child doesn’t use technology, many cowards are going online and posting lies, setting up fake facebook and other pages that can destroy one’s reputation. I am all for people’s rights but no one has a right to harm another person and that is not what the first amendment means. While Facebook gets the bulk of the press, they have really worked toward making some changes and have some resources in place. I am more concerned about the sites many parents don’t know about that people are getting attacked on such as Formspring (though I hear they are starting to do more) and Topix which doesn’t even require user registeration or moderation making it probably the most cowardly site of them all.

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