ELKHORN — There have been four youth suicides in Walworth County already in 2021, far higher that any recent year according to health officials.
In response, the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services has announced a new collaboration with Hope Squad, a school-based, peer-to-peer suicide prevention program for young children and adolescents that is part of a community wide effort to support the mental health and well-being of school-aged children.
DHHS will host a community outreach session on November 30, 2021, to introduce the Hope Squad program to local parents, caregivers, community members and partner organizations.
School board members, staff, and educators will participate in two school-focused sessions earlier in the day.
Ultimately, the goal is for all Walworth County schools to implement their own Hope Squads.
The Hope Squad community outreach session will be held via Zoom.
Hope Squad Founder and Executive Director Dr. Greg Hudnell and his team will give a presentation about Hope Squad followed by a Q&A.
The community outreach session will take place on Nov. 30 at 6 p.m.
Participants can register at www.co.walworth.wi.us/995/Hope-Squad.
“Walworth County has had four youth suicides thus far in 2021—far higher than any recent year. Given this statistic, adolescent mental health and well-being needs to be a top priority in our community, particularly as we consider the potential negative impacts of the COVID pandemic,” says Walworth County Public Health Officer Erica Bergstrom.
“Hope Squad is another tool to add to our toolbox as we work to support the mental health of our children,” he said.
Hope Squads, which are in over 1,100 schools throughout the United States and Canada, prevent youth suicide through education, training and peer intervention.
A unique aspect of Hope Squad is that students nominate peers they trust to become Hope Squad members.
Hope Squad advisors then train these student members on how to act as peer advocates, recognize signs of suicide contemplation, and respectfully report any concerns to an adult.
At the elementary level, this training focuses on safety, kindness, anti-bullying and resilience.
For middle school and high school Hope Squad members, the curriculum emphasizes understanding of suicide prevention awareness, mental health and self-care.
Regardless of age, all Hope Squad members strive to create safe school environments, promote connectedness, support anti-bullying, encourage mentalwellness, reduce mental health stigma, and prevent substance abuse.
Hope Squad is currently used locally in the Whitewater Unified, Big Foot High School, Elkhorn Area, and Delavan-Darien School Districts.
“Since implementation, the program has helped to create a group empowerment and structure where the students can help and respond,” says Elkhorn Area School District Superintendent Jason Tadlock. “There has been positive feedback, even though the program is in the infancy stages. The County supporting such an endeavor would provide countywide buy-in with multiple schools working together and using the same strategies, which will ultimately help with cohesion between school districts and DHHS.”
Learn more about Hope Squad at www.hopesquad.com.
Questions regarding the local implementation of Hope Squad and the upcoming outreach sessions can be directed to Walworth County Public Health at 262-741-3200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.