County plans to build on mental health forums

Anoka County is planning to build on the five Let’s Talk About It Anoka County mental health forums that have taken place this school year.

The forums have given residents in the county the opportunity to learn more about mental health, mental wellness and suicide prevention and involved a nationally known suicide prevention speaker, plus youth and adult panels.

“They have been wonderfully successful and we wanted a continuation,” said Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah.

To that end, the county board, on the recommendation of its Human Services Committee, which is chaired by Sivarajah, has authorized entering into a contract to accept an Anoka County Children and Family Council partnership grant totaling $45,000.

The program will involve students in bullying and bystander education programs at two high schools in the county from Sept. 1, 2012 through Aug. 31, 2013.

The grant application to the children and family council by the county’s community health and environmental services (CHES) and social services and mental health departments built on the success of the Let’s Talk About It Anoka County program, according to Laurel Hoff, county community health and environmental services director.

“We had very good attendance and people were really impressed by the youth panels,” Hoff said.

The message from those youth panels was that bullying is linked to mental health problems in youth, Hoff said.

“This follow-up is the next step,” she said.

“We are very pleased to receive the grant.”

Through this program, CHES staff will create programs to involve students in bullying and bystander education at two local high schools, Centennial and Coon Rapids, primarily at the ninth- and 10th-grade level, as well as parents and community organizations.

Both those high schools were interested in being part of the new program, Hoff said.

Leading the county staff effort will be Donna McDonald, the county’s violence prevention coordinator, according to Hoff.

Under the program, there will be forums for key people – student leaders, administrators and advocates – to come up with themes and ideas for the program’s framework, Hoff said.

In addition, through the program, multi-media strategies will be developed to carry the message through a youth/adult summit.

According to information provided by CHES staff to the Human Services Committee, outcomes are to make a positive change in the attitudes and behaviors surrounding bullying on an individual basis and within the larger school community.

The hope is that if the program is successful at these two schools, materials, templates and a process can be replicated at other schools and organizations, the staff report states.

The children and family council grant will be supplemented by in-kind county staff time, Hoff said.

The Anoka County Children and Family Council is a family services collaborative, which was established 20 years ago to bring together community representatives to focus on prevention and early intervention initiatives and coordination of human services and community supports for families.

Children and family council partners include Anoka County; Anoka County Community Action Program; Anoka-Hennepin, Centennial, Columbia Heights, Fridley, St. Francis, Spring Lake Park and Forest Lake school districts; Alexandra House; Childcare Resource and Referral; Emma B. Howe Family YMCA; and parents.

Under a joint powers agreement with the Anoka County Board, the county acts as the fiscal agent for the council.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]