During the last school year of distanced learning, our youth have shown their ability to make it through difficult situations with the support of tools acquired from BlueSky counselors like Rosie Cubias. At the beginning of the pandemic, Cubias noted the lack of resources for many Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) families in the Oakland and San Leandro School Districts. They didn’t have knowledge of the technology needed to provide their children with a home-based program for education. The children, in turn, picked up on their parents’ stress. They felt the need to not only take control of their own responsibilities, but also that of their family’s, which increased anxiety, worry, and low mood. Cubias counseled families over virtual meetings to help them work on clinical or personal goals over the school year.
Cubias’ work with BIPOC families is just one narrative of 4,000 sessions that BlueSky counselors conducted over the 2020-2021 school year. In that year, more than 50% of youth served in the BlueSky school-based therapy program identified as Latinx, and nearly 13% identified as Black.
Recent data shows that 60% of Black, Latinx, and single-parent families were facing at least one material hardship, including difficulty paying for rent, food, utilities, or health care. This is an increase from 40%, and that growth includes many Black or Latinx households that were middle or upper class before the pandemic.
By ensuring continuity of services, BlueSky addressed youth mental health and its disparities in communities of color by ensuring youth had access to mental health care and that their parents were equipped with the resources and knowledge to provide the best support. Removal of services during the pandemic would have undone progress and exacerbated student isolation. Instead, BlueSky offered counseling sessions online and by phone.
Leading with equity, BlueSky is committed to enhancing access, awareness, and advocacy of youth mental health supports by providing access to clinicians in middle and high schools, training educators on the signs of mental health concerns, and empowering students with in-person and online mental health support resources.
Nonprofit Wellness Together helped BlueSky fill gaps in access to care for students of color in need of mental health services. According to program evaluation data, school representatives valued the fact that the clinicians were available and/or on campus four days a week, with no eligibility requirements (e.g., insurance, Medi-Cal, etc.). This allowed students who needed professional care to quickly access it when they otherwise would not.
“Tragedy pulls back the veil on our egos, and families of color are finding it easier to talk about their feelings, and that they’re going through a tough time,” said Jeremiah Aja, assistant director at Wellness Together.
To fill additional gaps and promote self-care, BlueSky collaborated with the Child Mind Institute to produce a series of five guides, which cover topics including trauma, depression and anxiety, and how to begin conversations about racism, and LGBTQ+ concerns. The BlueSky website is continually updated to provide resources to both parents and educators.
In recognition of these efforts, BlueSky recently received top honors in the 2021 Communitas Awards in Community Service and Corporate Responsibility for Safeguarding Youth Mental Health in Communities of Color.
The Communitas Awards seek to honor companies, organizations, and individuals who go beyond rhetoric and whose commitments set them apart from the competition. Communitas, in Latin, means people coming together for the good of a community. Winners are dedicated to helping their communities, and are changing the way they do business to benefit their employees, communities, and environment.
“BlueSky embodies ‘communitas’ by leading with equity and supporting young Californians to reach their full potential and positively impact the health and well-being of the community,” said Amanda Lasik, senior manager, social impact. “We are honored to receive this recognition and look forward to continuing our work in expanding youth mental health services, especially to reach communities of color.”
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Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative enhances access, awareness, and advocacy of youth mental health supports in collaboration with the California Department of Education and leading nonprofit organizations. BlueSky supports California youth mental health by providing access to clinicians in middle and high schools, training educators on the signs of mental health issues, and empowering students with in-person and online mental health support resources.
The Communitas Awards were started in 2010 as an outgrowth of the pro-bono recognition program of the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), a several thousand-member group that honors creative achievement and fosters partnerships with charities and community organizations as part of its mission. AMCP gives grants to community organizations and underwrite a large portion of Communitas expenses.