A global pandemic, grief and loss, a divided nation, and ongoing racial injustices have been major contributors to a nationwide mental health crises in the last couple of years. Many of us had to work remotely, and as a consequence we were given the gift of time and self-reflection, a silver lining in the midst of chaos. While the global pandemic was something new to us, racial injustices, specifically towards the black community and people of color/non-dominant cultures, have been ongoing problems dating back centuries. On May 26, 2020, social media feeds were inundated with headlines about the murder of George Floyd. Unfortunately, this is an atrocity we have witnessed on multiple occasions. In the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other injustices, The Guidance Center collaborated with staff in developing internal and external Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Forces (DEI) to expand understanding of the inequities our community faces daily and to facilitate action towards positive change.
While the internal task force focused on advocating for positive shifts within the agency, the external task force sought to identify areas within the larger systems that could help improve the overall wellbeing of the community. Simultaneously, Long Beach School District’s (LBUSD) School Safety Department conducted a review related to the allocation of resources when responding to calls for service. Also, a 2019 analysis showed a steep rise in emotional crises among students. Together, thanks to their long standing relationship, The Guidance Center and LBUSD collaborated to develop the School Crisis Response Clinician Program.
As members of the internal and external DEI groups, we understood the importance of this role and therefore pursued being a part of a revolutionary program that would yield positive outcomes for those students with mental health crises as a result of school safety personnel being dispatched. Through this collaboration, we have developed a multi-tiered system of support to help improve student’s overall functioning by supporting staff and school safety officers through crisis intervention strategies, providing consultation of student mental health needs, facilitating district-wide training, and providing preventative care and outreach. We aim to prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of LBUSD students and staff. It is important to us that in doing so, we are mindful of culturally appropriate practices and that we implement restorative justice interventions to help advocate for students and families who have been disproportionately affected by multiple systems within their communities.
We are currently in the beginning stages of rolling out the program. As a team we decided to be intentional about the development of the program in hopes of obtaining more positive outcomes. We have conducted needs assessments with elementary and middle school administrators and school counselors, as well as with School Safety Officers to identify areas that may benefit from further support. In being intentional about our purpose, we developed an acronym intended to assist staff in engaging students in de-escalating interventions before contacting a Crisis Response Clinician. CARES was created with the intention of demonstrating a trauma-informed approach to mental health crises.
The CARES model is defined as:
- Connect/Build Rapport,
- Alleviate emotional distress by removing triggers,
- Regulate by engaging students in grounding skills,
- Encourage problem solving and School Crisis Response.
This model was purposely designed to provide care and support to students during a moment of distress.
So much can be said about our experiences in the last couple of years but one thing continues to be true, love prevails against all odds. Adding action to love propels the journey towards positive change. As two clinicians that heard their call to action, as an agency that outpours love to its community, and as a school district that is not afraid of change for the greater good we are proud to begin a new journey together to emphasize the importance of mental health while creating systemic change. When we allow ourselves to self-reflect and identify areas within ourselves that need further support we can be intentional about our actions.
Jacqueline Gallegos is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about working with adolescents and their families in navigating acculturational differences that may impact relational dynamics, communication, anxious, and depressive symptoms. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Gallegos worked with families and adults as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate. Gallegos earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Services, a Bachelor’s of art in Psychology, and a Master’s in Counseling at California State University, Fullerton.
Yessenia Arevalo is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s School Based Program, where she helps children and families with mental health related issues in order to improve functioning in all areas. She is especially passionate about addressing issues that impact the Latinx and marginalized groups and advocating for better access to services within the community that can facilitate positive outcomes. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2020, Arevalo worked with individuals as Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking clinician providing mental health services. Arevalo earned a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Women, Gender Sexuality studies and a Master’s in Social Works at University of Southern California