Getting problems out in the open is the best way to solve them.
That was confirmed by the Bainbridge Island City Council Jan. 17 after watching a presentation called “Youth in Crisis.”
“These problems have been with us for a long time,” deputy mayor Jon Quitslund said. “They’ve been hushed” because of the shame involved and other reasons.
The presentation showed how BI police, schools and Bainbridge Youth Services counseling have worked together to deal with sexual assault, bullying, drugs, truancy and other problems young people deal with today.
Quitslund called it “unprecedented” with the three working together. “It’s bringing all these things to light. We will be a healthier community because of this.”
Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson also was impressed with the triangle of help that could lead to solutions. “A couple of years ago nobody was listening to our youth,” she said, adding they were on the “firing line” and were not shy “about protesting to let everybody know.”
As a parent of a teen, Councilmember Joe Deets said he knows they think adults are not listening and that conversations are one way. “These young people want to be heard,” he said. Deets said his hope for the trio of agencies is that their goal is to give these kids “faith in our institutions; that the system works for me.”
Police chief Joe Clark said when he first came to BI in 2020 there were youth-led demonstrations about sexual assault. He said that led to a review of police practices, especially regarding victims and witnesses. He said the biggest problem was a “gap in communication” received and shared in explaining the processes of investigating such cases.
He said they are doing a better job dealing with people not only in handling investigations but keeping victims informed. They took additional training on how they should collect information without further traumatizing victims.
Their biggest improvement probably is hiring Kelsey Lynch as a full-time community health navigator to provide a point of contact and general support. Lynch said she has been a face for victims in dealing with investigations and the criminal justice process. She has also been proactive collaborating with schools and BYS. She uses a wraparound approach to make sure people get the help they need, whether it’s mental health, community support or engagement. And it’s not just for sexual assault, but for truancy and other issues, too.
Bainbridge High School principal Kristina Rogers said the problems BI is dealing with are the same ones that high schools across the nation have. She said there is a perception in the public that nothing is being done, but “nothing could be further from the truth.”
For example, regarding sexual harassment, schools have age group presentations dealing with the reporting process, school policies, and support and resources. There also are age group presentations on drugs and alcohol where experts answer student questions, discuss trends and use high schoolers to talk to middle schoolers.
About 100 parents almost a year ago on Zoom heard from the Kitsap Sexual Assault Unit to give them the tools to deal with it because their student might not tell them everything. “We’re really putting ourselves out there,” trying to help, Rogers said.
This fall, the school district worked with 1,200 students on issues like reporting bullying. She said about 800 responded to a survey, thanking school leaders for that learning experience.
She said in a couple of weeks there will be another session on risky behavior. She said they need to change the culture about dating violence. Kids need to have the tools to help peers to mitigate the risk for harm. “It’s a tricky topic,” she said, adding it’s not as easy as it sounds that, “No means no,” and “asking for permission.”
Rogers said cell phones are a major source of anxiety for teens. “It’s a game-changer,” she said of the pressure they cause. It’s something new to most adults. “Phones still had cords when I was in high school,” she said, adding that can be hard to understand because, “We teach what we know.”
Executive director Courtney Oliver said they have been involved with mental health, as kids come in who may not want to talk to parents, teachers or police. “We are like a buffer. A crisis is different for each kid,” she said.
BYS offers peer and parent support groups, and counseling. She said kids’ problems run the gamut, from those who can’t get out of bed to those who are stressed by doing too much work.
Oliver said when there is a problem there often is an uproar in the community, and it asks, “What are you going to do about it?” She explains it’s not that easy. It’s more of a community problem, and the community with many groups working together needs to come up with solutions. “Sometimes we pick the wrong topic,” she said, adding maybe alcohol is the real problem because it can lead to sexual assault.
Oliver said BYS will be sending out a survey asking middle and high schoolers what their biggest issues are so they can figure out who needs to come to the table. They want to come up with tangible tasks so the effort doesn’t just go by the wayside. “It’s a community-based mindset instead of one organization taking it on.”
Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki asked how they handle kids who don’t want to be involved. If the incident involves sexual assault, Clark said they want to “give power back to the victim. Give them choices. Find out where they want to go.”
Moriwaki also asked how effective Zoom meetings are dealing with kids with anxiety and depression.
Rogers said for some it was tough. When they took their masks off they were excited to be back to a more regular routine this year. She said they were craving to be in person to make up for time spent online. They like communicating face-to-face. There was trauma being at home for 1 1/2 years. “Social media was a lifeline.”