How Social Workers Help Struggling Teens (page 2)
The adolescent years can be very challenging for some teenagers and their families. While adolescence can be an emotionally intense, stormy phase for virtually all teenagers, sometimes a teen’s struggles require special intervention. Many teens struggle with issues related to mental health, family relationships, friends, school performance, substance abuse, sexuality, and other high-risk behaviors.
Struggling teens usually show signs of distress. Common warning signs include:
- Low self-esteem
- School failure and truancy
- Defiance towards authority (such as parents, teachers, police)
- Running away from home
- Choosing the “wrong” friends
- Impulsive behavior (such as speeding, taking other unsafe risks)
- Getting in trouble with the law
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Social isolation
- Eating disorders (overeating, not eating, self-induced vomiting)
- Self injury (such as cutting)
There is help for these youngsters and their families through many avenues.
There are many ways to locate and access programs and services for struggling teens. Initially parents can seek help by contacting school personnel (guidance counselors, social workers, administrators), family service agencies, community mental health centers, other community-based social service programs designed specifically for at-risk youngsters and their families, public child welfare agencies, family and juvenile courts, and specialty courts (such as truancy and drug courts).
Social workers can help parents and struggling teens identify and explore difficult and challenging family issues. Individual, family, and group counseling provided by clinical social workers may help parents and teens improve their communication skills and relationships, resolve conflicts, and address important mental health issues.
Professionals called “educational advocates” and “educational consultants” may be able to help parents and teens obtain needed services. Educational advocates, who are often attorneys, help people obtain specialized educational services. Educational advocates charge parents a fee and work with local, state, and federal education officials to ensure that students receive the services and “special accommodations” to which they are entitled by law. Advocates may file claims in court to force school districts to provide or pay for special-needs services and programs outside the school district.
Educational consultants help parents locate programs and services designed to meet their child’s needs. Educational consultants charge parents a fee, assess each teen’s unique strengths and needs, and help the family find the most appropriate schools or programs for their teen. Many educational consultants monitor students’ progress in the new program or school and, when necessary, advocate for the teen with that program or school when challenging issues arise.
Programs and services for struggling teens can be very expensive. Some families are able to pay for these programs and services “out of pocket.” Some families have health insurance that pays for all or part of the program, or the public school system may pay the cost.
Many families cannot afford needed programs and services, do not have adequate insurance, and are unable to obtain funding from their public school department. In some instances families that cannot afford needed services agree to give legal custody of their teen to the local public child welfare agency, which then funds the services or programs (in several states the public child welfare agency will fund services without requiring that parents hand over legal custody). In still other circumstances, desperate parents may turn to the juvenile or family court and formally request that the teen be declared “wayward,” thus enabling the court to require the child to accept intervention. In these cases the state typically pays for needed services and programs. Some parents may be reluctant to use this route to services because the court, not they, determine where the child goes for help.
There is a wide range of services and programs run by private and public agencies for struggling teens and their families. Some programs may be available locally; however, some programs may be in other communities or states, which means that the teen must live away from home in order to receive needed services.
A broad range of professionals and agencies offer crisis intervention and follow-up counseling services to teens and families. These services may be available through family service agencies, community mental health centers, hospital outpatient clinics, public child welfare departments, and psychotherapists in private practice (such as clinical social workers, clinical and counseling psychologists, mental health counselors, pastoral counselors, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatrists).
Many communities offer comprehensive counseling and family-intervention programs specifically for teens and families in crisis. These programs – known by names such as “comprehensive emergency services” or “comprehensive intensive services” – provide home-based assessment, emergency counseling, information, and referrals for longer term help.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association of Social Workers.
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