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A new way to support children

Social Services organizes support group, provides help for suicidal kids

Melissa Buchholz, Licensed Certified Social Worker

Bowman/Slope County Social Services has found a new way to support area children.

By Chris Slone

Social Services has started a Girls Circle Group, beginning with the fourth grade Bowman girls.

“We only had four girls in our first group,” Melissa Buchholz, Licensed Certified Social Worker, said. “We wanted to test it out.”

According to Buchholz, the curriculums used during the group sessions are evidence based and have been proven to work. 

“They’ve all been proven through research that they lower teen-pregnancy rate, it lowers teen drug use and it increases school attention,” Buchholz said. “It helps kids feel more included and accepted in their families.”

The first group lasted eight weeks and they met once a week.

“We did a friendship group and we taught the girls what it means to be a friend,” Buchholz said. “What qualities you should have to be a good friend. How to be honest and open with your friends, and how to deal with conflict.”

Buchholz said the girls learned a great deal from the meeting. Bullying doesn’t stop when a child leaves school anymore.

“We focused on building up their self-esteem, teaching them they are worth love and attention and friendship,” Buchholz said. “I think that was really helpful for them. The girls loved it.”

The second and third groups were focused on third and sixth-grade girls. We felt the third graders were a little bit young for the group. Research shows the best age to intervene with a girl is the age of 10. That allows them to build up their cognitive-core image. We tried with the third graders, but we felt they were a little young and it was hard for them to grasp some of the concepts we were doing.

“We have started with the younger-aged girls because if we ease into it, the teenage girls can have difficulty buying into some of the things,” Buchholz said.

The next group social services is planning on conducting will be in Rhame or Scranton. According to Buchholz, social services has been receiving a plethora of calls about suicidal children from the area schools. Buchholz said social services has received as many as three calls within a week.

“We’ve been trained in the SS suicide modal,” Buchholz said. “The school calls us for support. So, if a kid writes on a piece of paper, ‘I want to kill myself’ or they tell their teacher they’re suicidal or if they tell their friends, generally the school will call our office.”

Buchholz said if their office receives a call about a suicidal child, social services always notifies the child’s parents.

“If we’re contacted, we always contact the parents,” Buchholz said. “They’re always involved. Kids don’t always tell their parents. Sometimes, it’s a shock to the parents. A lot of times, the kids are hiding it. They seem really happy, but then they are snapping at their friends that they are going to kill themselves. Sometimes, it’s really hard for parents to hear.”

Shonda Schwartz, a licensed independent clinical social worker for Bowman/Slope Social Services, said they complete an assessment on the child to determine the child’s risk level. 

“ … Do they need to be hospitalized? Do we need to set up a safety plan? We always want to pull the family in because the family is the one who can always keep them safe,” Schwartz said. “We’ve had to remove pills, guns, different items that could be dangerous.”

Schwartz said there needs to be more awareness surrounding mental health.

“Just mental health in general isn’t talked about enough,” Schwartz said. “There’s just a big stigma out there. If a person has depression, it’s no different than a person having diabetes. It’s OK. It’s an illness. People are still ashamed of that. It’s hard for some people to really share how they’re feeling.”

Buchholz said the point of the girls’ group is to be there as the children venture through school.

“We’re kind of hoping to just walk through life with them,” Buchholz said.

There is also a boys’ curriculum. Buchholz said they should receive the training on the boys’ group in August. 

“We wanted to get trained and provide the services here,” Schwartz said. “Kids shouldn’t have to leave our community to get services. We want to get that boys group going because there’s that image that boys should be tough, strong, ‘Are you crying? How dare you?’ In reality, every emotion is OK. It’s normal and natural, and people feel the way they feel for a reason. Part of the boys’ circle group will address that. How you can handle emotions. How to have healthy relationships too.”