Strengthening Systems Youth Live Within
Reprinted from "First Responders" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3 (2) p.15
Social work is a profession that operates from the belief that people experience life as individuals that are in relationship with the world around them. When social workers come into contact with youth and their families, they respond to the needs of the youth and family individually and look at the systems of support that surround them. Social workers recognize that providing supports to young people when needs arise—including mental health concerns—can either prevent a crisis or support a youth through a crisis.
“Gates” to social work or mental health clinician support
Any concern or doubt about the health and welfare of a child or youth is worth mentioning. A broad spectrum of people who work with children are trained to have some familiarity with mental health issues and can provide direction to the right care. Some of these people include:
When young people, their families or community members become concerned about the mental health and well-being of a youth, it is critical that they trust their instincts and reach out for information and support. It is not only when child protection concerns arise that a social worker can be of benefit. It is not only in times of crisis that a social worker can respond and assist. When youth and their families need information, support services and assistance connecting with relevant community resources, a social worker will connect them with the resources they need.
Social workers focus on strengthening the system a young person lives within. A youth’s system of supports could include their school, family, peers, church, youth worker, mental health clinician and a variety of other service providers. Social workers build respectful relationships with the youth and their families in the interest of developing plans and goals that meet that youth’s unique needs. From a social work perspective, building an effective “care team” that includes meaningful people for that youth and their family ensures that they get the support they need. Meeting regularly as a team allows all individuals involved with a family to come together and brainstorm what needs to be done, what is working and what needs to change.
Social workers can provide assistance in exploring resources that may be available for a youth experiencing mental health concerns—including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, trauma, suicidal tendencies, substance misuse, psychosis and the variety of other mental health experiences that can arise during adolescence.
When social workers suspect a mental health concern, one of the supports they may refer the child to is Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH), a service of the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development. Child and Youth Mental Health operates similarly to social workers in many areas. One role a CYMH clinician can play is that of a case manager in the child’s life.
As such, the clinician can help orchestrate and work as part of a larger team of professionals and lay people supporting—or struggling to support—the child who has a mental health concern. While a mental health clinician directly assesses and treats mental health conditions, unlike the social worker, the overlap between the two roles is considerable. Both work with the family. A multitude of research in children’s healthy development indicates the importance of educating and supporting caregivers to provide “best” care for a child with mental health issues. Mental health clinicians also frequently refer their clients to community resources as part of a belief that the child is healthiest when supported by the larger systems around them.
Children, youth and/or their caregivers and other supportive people in their lives can reach out for support in a variety of ways if they suspect a mental health concern. The first contact with a social worker or mental health worker could occur through a variety of “gates” (see sidebar). It is important that the youth, or someone concerned about him or her, knock on and enter one of these gates.
About the authors
Autumn is a social worker on a Youth Team within the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and a registered member of the BC Association of Social Workers.
Deneen is a mental health support worker for Child and Youth Mental Health, Abbotsford Ministry of Children and Family Development. She previously worked for the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre in Burnaby.