DOVER, Del. (AP) _ With the National School Climate Survey reporting that as many as 64 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths likely to suffer from depression, suicide attempts and substance abuse, organizations across the state are joining together to implement early-intervention services in schools and the community.
The Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families in conjunction with Delaware Guidance Services for Children and Youth formed an informal task force two months ago to combat the problems LGBT youth face from their peers and society.
``We want to promote awareness in a non-threatening way. You can't deny the facts, and the data that show our youth is struggling,'' said Yolanda Jenkins, an administrator at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families.
The department and Delaware Guidance Services provide similar services in regard to suicide prevention so it was a natural fit for the two to work together on the initiative started by the state.
``Over the past three years, we have trained more than 12,000 students across the state in suicide prevention but haven't focused on any specific groups. With this past success, it makes sense for us to promote the LGBT training,'' said Malia Boone, suicide prevention and intervention coordinator at Delaware Guidance Services.
The task force emphasizes the key to improving its success is to provide suicide prevention and mental health services that begin as early as middle school.
``We know that youth in middle schools are going through many different things; their bodies are changing, they are forming friendships and identities, and often their sexual identity is beginning to develop,'' said Boone. ``We know that teachers are in a very special position to recognize students that are struggling and get them to the help they need.''
State initiatives have been a part of implementing suicide prevention programs in middle schools over the past several years.
Gov. Jack Markell provided funding which enabled the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services to hire 30 licensed Behavioral Health Consultants to work in middle schools throughout the state. These consultants provide interventions to address mental health issues adolescent students experience.
Last year, the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families began using a program created by the behavioral health simulation company, Kognito Interactive, called ``Step In, Speak Up!'' ``Step In, Speak Up!'' is a 30-minute online training program available to educators and adults working with youths in Delaware, Arizona, Illinois and Maryland. It allows the trainee to evaluate several different scenarios to determine appropriate courses of action to take with at-risk youth in various situations and settings. The simulation is designed to train adults in how to identify bullying and how to intervene and understand the obstacles of high-risk youth groups such as LGBT youth.
Delaware is currently working with its second three-year Garret Lee Smith Grant for suicide prevention and is pushing a portion of the funds toward promoting training, specifically targeting LGBT youth using ``Step In, Speak Up!''
``It's so refreshing to see this program allowing people to step up and be willing to start a conversation about this,'' said Jenkins.
``Step In, Speak Up!'' helps teachers and adults determine when a youth needs to be directed to professional help after talking with them and how to encourage the youth to take advantage of the help that is available to them, whether it be from an in-school professional or an outside consultant or facility.
``The goal is to create a more comfortable environment,'' said Lori Janjigian of Kognito Interactive. ``People don't know what to say and what the right words are because it is a sensitive topic.''
The task force hopes to not only help at-risk LGBT youth, but to help their peers gain awareness to make schools a safer place and improve the learning environment for all students.
Training is free and available at www.kognito.com