October 19, 2023

Promoting Youth Mental Health with Long-Term Relationships

Even before 2020, the number of young people in America feeling persistently sad and hopeless was increasing. The pandemic made things worse and, in fall 2022, the U.S. Surgeon General declared a youth mental health crisis.

When youth and caregivers at Friends of the Children - Boston were struggling to have their mental health support needs met, the chapter responded. The chapter enhanced training for their Friends and leveraged new partnerships with local culturally-specific mental health clinicians to increase timely access to mental health services for youth in the program.

Youth like JT, a 16-year-old junior who has been in the program since he was in first grade. JT is a driven teen, and his goal to make the football team is a major motivator for him.

JT and his father Thomas, who is raising him on his own, have been through a lot. When concerns about JT’s mental health first came up, it was hard for Thomas to trust that schools and the mental health system had his family’s best interest in mind. This year when bullying led to serious concerns about JT’s safety, the system took

months to respond and Thomas was worried. Friends - Boston was able to get support in place for both JT and Thomas right away — a request that Thomas made because the organization had built trust with him and his son. Thomas joined a fathers’ support group, and JT is working with his therapist and with his Friend, Stefan, on ways to process his emotions and build more positive relationships with his peers.

Our long-term, “no matter what” relationships are the number one reason families trust Friends of the Children to help when their children are in crisis. Friends aren’t therapists, but our work is therapeutic. Acknowledging the hard things that youth and families have faced is part of our trauma-informed approach. With love, compassion, and the right supports, we are creating safe spaces for youth and their families to heal.

For Thomas, healing looks like finding time to connect more with his son and cooking dinner together once a week. For JT, it is finding the courage to work to build stronger peer friendships and to step up as a leader at the Friends - Boston entrepreneurship competition. This is what generational change looks like — one child, one Friend, one family at a time.