Aiding urban youngsters

March 21, 1994

No discussion of social ills is complete without attention to "children at risk," a term that includes increasing numbers of urban young people whose lives are often bruised by poverty, violence and unstable family situations. In many cases, "beyond risk" would be a more accurate term.

But "beyond risk" does not mean beyond hope. The announcement of a new Hopkins-led initiative to address the mental health needs of children in East Baltimore brings welcome recognition that too many social programs address the physical needs of young people and their families, while doing little to relieve the turmoil and confusion that permeate their emotional lives.

Some programs are already addressing their concerns. A telling fact about urban woes is that school-based health clinics find great demand for their counseling services. For example, one sought-after program is grief groups, in which young people who have experienced the death of a loved one, often by violence, meet together.

Mental health services are not a frill. Emotional turmoil demonstrably hampers school performance. Some educators even say the learning profile of a grieving student bears striking similarities to a child with recognized learning disorders. Think for a moment about all the Baltimore school children whose sleep is haunted by nightmares of violent scenes on their streets or even inside their own homes. Those nightmares also sabotage concentration in the classroom.

The Hopkins initiative is an ambitious plan, as it should be. The East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership has received a $15 million grant to develop a national model for coordinating and delivering services to young people. Nineteen school-based clinics will anchor the effort; they will not be confined to school hours, but will remain open in the evenings and during summer vacations. The clinics will evaluate youngsters and, when necessary, offer referrals to other services in the community. A large part of the grant's mandate is to coordinate the many different services available in the community, including social services agencies, churches, schools and neighborhood groups.

Hopkins has its own investment in the success of programs like this. In the long run, its well-being depends on the health of the neighborhoods surrounding its East Baltimore campus. What better way to lend its strength to the community than to help nurture the young people who call those neighborhoods home.

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