Palo Alto youth organization is expanding mental health services

PALO ALTO — Santa Clara County has partnered with Youth Community Services to expand access to substance abuse and suicide prevention services for youth on the Peninsula, Superintendent Joe Simitian’s office announced.

The county’s funding for YCS comes from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act grants passed in 2021, according to Simitian. Initially $150,000 was approved by the Board of Supervisors in May of this year, but now the Board has agreed to increase the appropriation to $225,000 so that YCS can expand to more communities and run its program through June of next year.

“These are difficult times for young people and their parents,” said Simtian, who serves as chair of the county’s health and hospital committee. There is an enormous need for preventive mental health services for our youth; Fortunately, Youth Community Services has a unique model that provides services directly to children.”

The money is to go to Youth Connect, an after-school program founded in 2017 that connects high school students with peers and adults who can support them and provide workshops and volunteer projects to help young people “grow and thrive,” according to the organization.

YCS said Youth Connect “protects preteens and teens from the many risk factors that can harm their mental health.” The program helps youth learn how to build positive relationships, enhance social bonding and engage with the community.

The program was initiated in response to a suicide prevention report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which outlines findings related to youth suicide in recent years. With the pandemic affecting already isolated youth, mental illness cases have doubled during the pandemic, according to new CDC data.

“By pooling our resources with the city of Palo Alto and the county, we’ve been able to do so much more,” said Maura Ohmen, executive director of Youth Community Services. “We connected young people directly with peer leaders their age. Peer leaders hosted in-person workshops, implemented service projects, and produced educational videos that amplified youth voices.”

High school students are under increasing stress that can lead to drug use and suicide, Simitian’s office said, so the district is also collaborating with local schools to combat the rise in youth overdoses of fentanyl by getting Narcan — a lifesaving overdose — into the hands of parents and teachers.

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