About the Program
The Youth Chemical Dependency Program supports Karen youth struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol through referrals, prevention education, and supporting parents. The program serves middle and high school students ages 12 through 18.
Prevention education works to highlight the negative effects of drugs, marijuana and alcohol in the short and long term, with the goal of discouraging substance abuse. Prior to the pandemic, these sessions took place in high schools. However, due to safety concerns, classes have been moved to Zoom, thanks to the help of school liaisons and Karen teacher assistants.
Outside of high school education, KOM also offers a prevention education program to youth leaders. This program covers the skills needed to talk to youth with drug problems. Youth leaders also learn how to seek help for those struggling with substance abuse and welcome them back into their communities. Youth leaders then meet with other youth once or twice a month to apply this learning.
Peer Support Group
The Youth Chemical Dependency Program also offers a Peer Support Group. The group consists of parents whose kids struggle with behavioral problems as well as youth and others struggling with stress and depression. The focus of each meeting is different, but one topic covered is teen/parent communication. This education helps parents and their children communicate more peacefully. The program resumed over Zoom last month, and will continue being held virtually for the foreseeable future.
Working with Parents
As Ner Mu puts it, “when I’m helping youth, I’m also supporting parents.” He interprets for them, follows-up with their children, and grants referrals to treatment centers. Then, he follows up with the parents, and provides any additional assistance they may need. If students want to first see a healthcare provider before going to a treatment center, Ner Mu also helps with this process. Having someone to help navigate these challenges eases parent anxiety.
Another responsibility of the Youth Chemical Dependency Program is to make referrals. Parents, faith leaders, and community leaders working with youth ages 13 through 19 can reach out to Ner Mu (Youth Health Educator – Program Manager for Community Health) to get a referral. He will then connect them to an adolescent treatment center for an evaluation. It is important that parents and community leaders reach out on behalf of youth, so that our staff can identify those youth in need of assistance. To set up an appointment, contact Ner Mu.
Unfortunately, there are more obstacles at play than navigating the medical system. Youth also struggle with peer pressure. Peer pressure can influence a youth’s decision not to pursue treatment. Often, friends at school are also using drugs and alcohol and pressuring their peers to continue doing the same. On the flipside, some youth have stayed in treatment for longer than 2 to 3 months, to avoid being near bad influences.
Since Ner Mu started this program a little more than a year ago, he has seen community leaders and parents feel less overwhelmed. Prior to the program, faith leaders were the only contact parents could turn to for help. In essence, faith leaders were doing Ner Mu’s job. This program provides parents and faith leaders with another reference point to turn to. As a result, fewer youth get lost in the weeds. Since the program began, 22 youth have been assisted.
Partners to the Youth Chemical Dependency Program include the St. Paul Public Schools, St. Paul Police, Maplewood Police, Ramsey County Youth Diversions, Karen churches, Buddhist Temples, and the M Health Fairview Treatment Center.