Hope Happens Here

Dr. Adela Cruz: Going Back To School?

Episode Summary

As kids continue to return to the classroom, their new “normal” will look much different than it did pre-COVID. Dr. Adela Cruz discusses how students, parents and professionals in her district are coping and adapting.

Episode Transcription

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Hello, and welcome to the Hope Happens Here Podcast. I'm Kate Gosney-Hoffman, and I'm so happy you're here. Today, we're going to be talking about going back to school, what education and parenting looks like during COVID-19. It's caused an upheaval in the rhythm of life, especially when it comes to our community's standard of education. For many, they were pulled abruptly from the classroom setting in March and, now, may just be returning to physical schooling. But that schooling won't look the same. There's masks and social distancing requirements, smaller cohorts, alternate scheduling, and online and Zoom classes, among so many other changes. Without a doubt, these changes have had adverse effects on the mental health of our youth population, and parents have been placed into the new role of teacher, trying to oversee their children's education while also maintaining their household and professional duties. It's a lot. These added responsibilities, along with the general challenges of the pandemic, have created skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression.

                                    So this podcast will explore the challenges that our youth population faced in regards to education and mental health during the height of the pandemic, as well as the challenges they may now be facing as they transition into what school looks like for them now. We'll also discuss the ways in which parents have been impacted by the changes in the educational model, their experiences, and how they are coping. We also hope to provide resources and support for you through this time. Today, we're going to be speaking with Dr. Adela Cruz, LCSW, PPSC from Anaheim Union School District. Dr. Cruz oversees the development, implementation, and improvement of the district's mental health program, their McKinney-Vento Homeless Program, their foster youth program and internship training institution. She also serves as the crisis response lead and supervises the district's licensed clinical social workers who provide mental health services to the district's 20 school sites. Additionally, she's a parent of two boys.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              This is Adela.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Hi, Adela. This is Kate from the Hope Happens Here Podcast.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Hi. How are you?

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       I'm good. How are you?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Good, good. Thank you. Happy Friday.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Happy Friday. I'm so glad that you agreed to do this. Thank you so much.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Of course.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Well, thank you so much for being here. Dr. Adela Cruz is from Anaheim Union High School District, and she is a licensed clinical social worker as well as a PPSC, which I looked that up and it's a pupil personnel services credential. Is that correct? Is that the right designation?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yes.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Okay, awesome. So can you tell us a little bit about what you do for the school district?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right. So I'm currently the coordinator for school mental health. I'm also the district's foster youth liaison and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance liaison as well. My role is really to design, implement, monitor, and support sustainability and things related to mental health services to students, things like crisis response and, right now, telehealth services, to really build systems for our foster youth and support for our foster youth to ensure their success and their wellbeing. Similarly, with our homeless youth, to build systems in place to support their academic progress, their wellbeing, and support with any issues related to homelessness and basic needs. So it's really building the program, supporting those programs, and sustainability. I oversee 17 social workers, a couple of other support staff that I have under my supervision. We service 19 schools, and whatever the child needs in the moment, we are there to respond to their need.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       How long have you been with the school district?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Oh, that's a great question. This is my 11th year.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              I just did a presentation last night at the board talking about where we are and the services that we have. When I started, I was the only social worker in the district, and folks didn't really know ... "What do social workers do, and what are you doing here?" I'm pretty proud to say that 10 years ago, I could never envision ... I knew what I wanted, but I could never envision just the system that we now have in place, where I can say that we have successfully merged behavioral healthcare with the educational system and we have something that's very sustainable. What I tell my team, our job is to become part of the site's DNA, where they really can't see a day without our services and really understand what we bring to the table as mental health professionals on the school. We've come a long way. This is my 11th year. I say that if I had to retire right now, I'd be happy because the programs would go on without me, which is what our goal is when we are building programs. Yeah.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow, Adela. What an amazing accomplishment, too. I love the way that you said that. You've created this harmonious relationship between the education and the behavioral health, which is ... I mean, how beautiful is that? That's the way it should be, right, because they're so interconnected.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right. They are.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow. You have built this system from the ground up, so you have to feel very proud of where you've seen the trajectory go and, I'm sure, thinking about the last 11 years. Then I can only imagine what this year has been like for you because you're responsible for putting all these systems in place. What has your role been with regards to all of the transitions with COVID? Have you been involved in shifting the dynamics and making this all work? What have you been involved with?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yes. Yes. Somebody like me coming into the educational system, I do have to say that leadership and timing matters for the work that we do. It's my leadership with our board members, the superintendent, and assistant ... If they were not on board with anything that I do, it would be much more difficult for me to build this, so I have to make sure that I always give them credit for really supporting me and just telling me yes and trusting that ... "We know what you're doing, Adela. Yes, go ahead and do it."

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Absolutely.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              That's absolutely important. In transitioning, I have to say that every single person within the educational system, every group played a role in the smoothness of how we transitioned. In our program, we quickly started a telehealth program, something that school districts across the country most likely did not have because we meet the kids and we pull them out of the classroom and see them in person. So everybody struggled with that. We quickly moved to that service. What I had to do on my end is develop some training protocols and some safety protocols on how we're going to deliver and who was going to deliver these services. We moved pretty fast, and within a couple of weeks to maybe three weeks, we were able to transition and begin to connect with kids virtually.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       That's incredible.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              That was true with our school counselors. It was true with our school psychologist and other groups, our teachers. So we moved on it. We were not stuck and like, "Oh my God, what's happening around us?" We're like, "What do we need to do in the moment to make sure that we're still connected with students?" I reached out to our community partners, our agencies, and asked, "How many of you are still doing in-person? How many of you are virtual? What do we do? What's the protocol?" So I have to say that, collectively, I think, within education and within mental health, without maybe not even realizing, we just all jumped in on it and just did what we could with what we had to connect with students.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow. What a testament to the dedication that you and the rest of the faculty have towards your students, right, and to make sure that you maintain integrity in your education. I mean, this was an all hands on deck situation to say the least, right?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              It was, and everybody did their part. But the beauty of it is that everybody, like myself, was dealing with what was happening in the community, so we were all in our homes and managing our private lives and then building that workspace some people may not have had. At the same time that we were all doing that, we were working towards making sure that we were servicing our children, our kids and our students.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow. I'm so amazed, even just by what you've said already, the telehealth, getting that in place, because, already, it sounds like you already had the mental health needs of these kids in mind, just knowing and anticipating that this was going to be a difficult transition, and so you had support in place for them already. So that's fantastic. This all started probably back in March, right, was when this all ... Was that when all the shifts started happening within the educational system for you guys, about March?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah, it was in March. I think it was March 16th where we ... Those of us in the [inaudible 00:09:25] district meeting had a meeting and we were told this is happening today.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Oh, boy.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              We called an emergency meeting with all the social workers, counselors, and psychologists. I called an emergency meeting, and I said, "This is what we're doing. We're going to move to telehealth services. We're having another meeting this week. We're going to move on this fast, so get ready. This is coming."

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Gosh.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Within that same day, we made the decision, called the emergency meetings, and I said, "This is what we're doing. We all have to deal with our own lives, so we need to keep moving, so we're going to transition."

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Doing whatever we can do to stay afloat to make sure that we still serve our kids and keep our families afloat. There are really not any words for probably what this year has been like for so many when it comes to juggling all of this, right?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah. When you reflect on the growth and you go back to the moment when we're thinking about, "Oh my God, we're shutting down, it's never happened in our history," the perspective is in our history, this has never happened, so ... But the beauty of it is-

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yes. Uncharted territory.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah, it is, totally, for everybody. The beauty of it is how do we as human beings move and navigate through adversity? Because it's not necessarily overcoming, you're going through the process every day. So you're really navigating through adversity, and how do you continue to navigate through adversity and stay positive with all the challenges that are coming at you, and how do we connect with those folks who are having a really long time, and how do we keep those folks that are doing well motivated? Because if the adults in the system are not doing well and we're connecting with those that need the help, then our children, their needs are not going to be met. So there's a lot of learning. Everybody has grown. Every single person has grown from it. There's no one person that has not grown, even if you learned how to facilitate a meeting through Zoom.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Totally.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              But everybody has grown in some way, and there's a lot of things that are not going to go away that we're going to adopt, like telehealth services. That's not going away for us. We're just going to leverage it. So, yeah, absolutely.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Which is kind of a beautiful thing in the end, right? Now, you have this other tool that you can offer. It was created out of crisis, but it will definitely serve its purpose ongoing.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right. Right. And I think that's how organizations succeed. When [inaudible 00:11:59] in adversity, you're either going to fall or you're going to move forward and you're going to grow from it. I think that, for districts, it's been a testament of how we are going to continue doing our best to ... And I would speak for other districts if I may, with their permission, and say that everybody's trying their very best to grow and continue serving our kids.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       I believe that wholeheartedly, that everybody is stretching as much as they possibly can, in ways that they probably didn't even know that they could to try to make this all work. You being a mental health professional and looking through the lens of behavioral health, if there was ever something to really look through the lens of behavioral health, this would be it, just when you're talking about connection and maintaining some sense of normalcy and some sense of connection still between the students and the teachers and not letting them down in that way but also having to adapt to this entirely new situation, which you mentioned has never happened before. There's just so much to unpack there.

                                    That's why I'm so glad to be talking to you, because I think your perspective is so important. So I'm curious what you've noticed in terms of the OC students and their families. How, in your opinion, have they been coping with this transition? Just a little caveat there, I'm sure that has evolved month to month to month, right? It hasn't been the same in March compared to how it is now. But I'm just curious what that trajectory has looked like.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              That's a great question, and when I talk to folks and help them understand what this generation is going through, I tell them that this is their 9/11, just to put things in perspective, that it is their 9/11, and the problem with this is that it doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. Usually when anyone suffers from traumatic events, you want to return to normalcy as quickly as possible.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       True.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              But, by now, that's not possible, and I'm not going to go into the politics of the national conversation, but it reaches them in terms of what leadership and what's happening in the national level in terms of what's happening. So what we're seeing is that you have differences of opinion, and that sometimes impacts the child. You have different perspective in terms of what schools should be doing, and that affects the child. You have the loss that everybody's experiencing. There's layers and layers to loss. So you're losing developmentally that need to connect with their peers, which is in their DNA at this age, and the loss in terms of the death that they're seeing, the loss of the way that we as a society respond to death and the rituals that we go through, the grieving process. That is not the same, that we're not able to grieve and mourn our loved ones the way we traditionally do. So you have the economic impact, the fear of, "Oh my God, my grandma's going to get sick if I do something," so there's layers and layers to what our families are dealing with.

                                    Within those layers, you have children and families who are very resilient that are doing well, they're adapting well, that they're taking this and they're doing very, very well virtually. Then there's kids who are having a more difficult time. I'll tell you that this whole experience in our history has really brought to everyone's attention within the educational system the issue of equity. The children that are in our classrooms who really did not have access to Internet or computers, this is around the country, and where we as a district thought we were doing our best in connecting children to the Internet and giving them access, the number of kids that are coming up for every ... Talking to my colleagues in other districts, it's just the same. So there's layers and layers of things that our children are dealing with right now that we're asking them to navigate, at the same time, still do your work, still come to school. The resiliency that our children are demonstrating, I think, it's inspiring sometimes and motivational for us to keep going. The kids will keep coming to class. We need to keep going as well.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       That is such a beautiful point and so beautifully said, about the loss and just the layers that are involved in what these children are going through, these kids of all ages, small all the way up to seniors in high school. As a mental health professional myself, I've been very concerned about, like you said so wonderfully, you said that the connection is part of their developmental DNA, right? We need that connection to thrive and to grow and to learn and to healthily attach and all those things and learn social norms and all those developmental milestones. It's been interrupted in a lot of ways, or maybe it just looks different than what we're used to, right?

                                    But it's something that I've been concerned about. If we don't keep this in mind, what will the consequences of that be? So that's why when you said the telehealth, when you put that into place, I thought, "Oh, what a wonderful way to help support them through that." What else have you seen in terms of ... Have you seen any negative repercussions about that, or have you mostly seen more of the resiliency you're talking about? What would you say is the general tone?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah. I think it's both. I think we have to see. Through the lens of general human behavior, I think human beings are resilient as much as they can be, and I think that you have children who have already risk factors. They have minimal mental illness or minimal mental health, and those kids are at more risk, and we're seeing that they're becoming less and less motivated to be ... And I'm calling it, when I talk to my team, I go, "Oh, what you're describing is virtual fatigue." We're all feeling virtual fatigue.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              It seems a little bit more exhausting to be in front of the computer all day as opposed to connecting with folks. We miss it. Everybody misses connecting with folks and walking around campus and, "Hey, how you doing," seeing our colleagues. So we're describing virtual fatigue. Our children are experiencing it even more. I talked to a group of high-achieving students last night. In one of their clubs, I came in as a guest because they were talking about mental health. These are students who are going straight to a four-year university, smarter than me, and they're describing how tired they are of being online. They're still doing their work. They come to class. They know they have to do it. But they just really are tired of being online. Then you have other kids who are doing well, and they're just thriving, or you have kids who don't want to come back. Like I said, again, you have different reactions to what's happening, as in any traumatic event.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       True.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              You're going to have individuals respond to that event in different ways. Of the small percentage of students that are not doing well, those are the students that concern us, but we have safety nets in place. That's what I tell my team. You have to tell yourself that you're doing what you can and you focus on the safety nets that we have, like the crisis response, like all of our efforts in suicide prevention, all of our efforts to telehealth. We have the safety nets in place. We have systems in place where students are identified when we need to come in and support. So let's stay focused on that and know that there's different reactions to what's happening around us.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Right. Because there's just so many varying circumstances, backgrounds, and all these different things that come into play that will affect how somebody is going to respond and react to this. The level of support they have at home is a really big factor. That's the other thing, is I hate to use the word burden, but it is a burden on the parents in a way. It's those who aren't able to be home with them or haven't been able to stop being in the office or even if they are still working from home, having to juggle that, that's a whole nother ballgame.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              It is, yeah.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So what have you seen with regards to that and even your own personal experience? How has this been for you? I'm assuming you've been working from home and supporting your own children. How old are your kids?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              My daughter is 16, and my son now is 18. He graduated and didn't get to have the experience that every other senior has had, well, since the inception of public education.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow. Just in the nick of time, right?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right, right. So-

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       But your daughter is 15. You said your daughter is 15?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              She's 16, yes.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       16, I'm sorry.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              16, yeah.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So she's in the thick of it, right?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              She is. She is.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       How has this been for you guys?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Again, my children are pretty healthy kids. They have a really good connection to their school community. It's been hard for them. It's been hard. They want to be with their friends. We try to, as much as possible, give them that opportunity where they're connecting with their friends. As long as they're safe, we let them connect. I let them connect as much as possible. But it's been hard. My son, he didn't get to have the ritual, as all his classmates and all the seniors around the country, they didn't get to have it. So we had a moment. He had a moment, and now he's online. He was looking forward to being on campus, being in a dorm. He was accepted into NYU. So he was really-

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Oh, boy.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              ... really, really disappointed, really disappointed that he couldn't move as a freshman to NYU. He's took a loss, right, and the layers of the loss-

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              ... that our children are experiencing, some more [inaudible 00:23:02] than others. But those are losses that our kids have to process and my kids have to process. They each had their moments where I had to come in and console them, "It's going to be okay, we're going to get through this, you're going to be fine," so moving them right along. And I understand behavioral health like you. We understand, so it's easier for us, a little bit, to support our children. But it is hard to be at home, take care of your family, take care of the school, depending on your role. I think that what this time in our history has really highlighted is how all of these systems are so interconnected and dependent on each other, the fact that our children are in school and we feel so free to get up and go to work.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So true. Yes.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              We don't have to worry about it, right? We don't have to worry about. It's like, yeah, my kids are in school. I can go to work. I'm comfortable. They eat there. They're there. They have fun. The childcare piece, it just brought everything to that awareness that, oh my God, we really are so interconnected in society, all of these different systems intertwined and dependent on one another. When one system falls, the other systems are affected. But I think the layer of the stress the adults are feeling because they have to now navigate and perhaps be the one system that supports all of those things. You have parents who still have to be at work and taking care of their babies. I don't know how they do it. I pray for them. That's all I can do.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah. Exactly.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              The ones that have little kids, yeah.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah. I have small children. My colleagues and friends that have children your age, I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, how are you doing this with the virtual learning and everything?" Then they look at me and say, "No, we don't know how you're doing it with those little babies." So I think every chapter just has its own challenges, right? But this whole situation with the pandemic has created ... It's upped the ante in ways we could've never really ever anticipated and-

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Never imagined it.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Right. As you were saying, as a mental health professional, you're familiar with loss and you're familiar with the grieving process and what that's going to look like and how to better support your kids through this, but even as much as we know, when you're in it and when it's your family and you're the one that's juggling all of it, it's hard. So my hat's off to you, too, Adela, because I know that this has been probably just beyond challenging in so many ways.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah. And I think I would want to say, sometimes, we want to be strong, we want to present a strong persona. But I do have to say that I've had my days. I do have my days, so I have to come back every day in the morning and there's times when I have to push myself to be positive because I, too, have that virtual fatigue. I, too, miss connecting with my friends and my family and everybody else. I, too, have my fears. So it's a challenge that I can say a lot of us are feeling and trying to navigate.

                                    How do you get up the next day in the morning and be positive, especially if you're leading a team, when your team is talking about their own fatigue and how concerned they are, but you have to be the one that sets the tone of, "Hey, guys, you need to keep moving forward. Focus on what you can do. Focus on the safety nets." Again, I'm as vulnerable as anybody else next to me, and I've been trying my best, as everybody else next to me, to just stay positive and keep moving forward. I think that's what we all have to do.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       And to know you're not alone, right? I really appreciate what you just said, with that vulnerability and just saying, "Hey, this has been really" ... This is what I do for a living. We've been faced with a new challenge in many ways, and we've figured it out, and we're here for the students, and we're putting all these new protocols and new systems in place. Yet I still struggle. This is very hard, and I think just normalizing that for all the parents out there is really, really important because I think so many people have just been in crisis mode for months and months and months, right? When we just slow down and we acknowledge what we've all been through and been able to navigate and what we've had to hold space for and have been able to hold space for, for ourselves and for our kids and for our jobs and all of that, it's monumental. It's a lot.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              It is. It is a lot. Yeah.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah. We're all human and just doing the best we can. Thank God for people like you and your team because putting those support systems in place ... I can imagine there's been an uptick in anxiety and depression in the kids. Have you seen much of that?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yes, we have. We have seen more kids with anxiety and especially depression because they're isolating, more kids are isolating, so there's been an increase. Mental illness, suicide rates were already on the rise. In the past 10 years, they were already going up. So what this has done is really uncovered some of that that was already percolating that we were just not aware of. Yes, there's been a rise. One of the things that we're bracing for is the trauma, that once we reopen, that's going to come back. Because right now, as you said, everybody's in crisis mode, so when the dust settles, I think that there's going to be more of that that comes our way.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah. That's a really good point. Just being prepared is really important. Once we get out of crisis mode and we are now in an adjustment phase, a reorientation phase, we're probably going to see a lot more people in need of help for those reasons.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right. Yep. It's coming.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Like you said, with the telehealth piece, that's why you're going to keep it. I can imagine that's part of the thinking there. Are there any other resources you're putting into place or just making sure that you guys are well-prepared with what you already have? What are-

Dr. Adela Cruz:              I'm part of several community meetings. I think that, as a whole, our county has really stepped up in looking at the mental health system, so I'm really glad to say that there's movement around to make sure that they're working with schools, that the behavioral healthcare field is working with schools more directly.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Nice.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              That's been a change this year that I've seen as the conversation started last year. So we're very strategic and partner with the community. We never assume that we can do it all ourselves. We try to connect families strategically, based on their need, to community partners, and they're very, very important. Again, even though I have 17 clinicians, they cannot possibly serve all the students in the district. It would be really hard. So we're very strategic with our partnership, process of collaboration. We have several formal agreements, informal agreements as well, and keep leveraging of community partners to service kids. We oftentimes hand-hold families because navigating those systems is complicated for a professional, let alone somebody who doesn't understand them. So we do a lot of warm hand-off. We make sure that they're feeling connected, not just giving them a number or a referral.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah. [crosstalk 00:30:45]-

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah. That's a big part of it.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Having that continuum of care and having that wraparound support, and that's something that you've already been working really hard at having, even before all of this struck, right? You've already built a really good foundation around that, so thank goodness that was already there.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right. Yes. Yes. [crosstalk 00:31:05]-

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Good work, Adela.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Thank you. It was already there. Good work, everybody.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So that's a very important point, that you can only do so much as a school and school district, right? Having the community partnership and relationships is so important, and that's really why we're here, too, having this conversation, is to connect the community and to share different kinds of resources and what's available and just to ensure that that connection is first and foremost made known. It is just so important, so easy to feel like you're in a silo and don't really know where to start with all this when it comes to mental health.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah. That point that you just raised about informing the community about that, that is so important for school districts and knowing who are your community-based providers. That's really important. Anybody who wants to help with youth mental health, just reach out to your district. That's crucial for any school district, to have an understanding, who's out there that can help us?

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So they can-

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Because they're dealing with this every single day.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So they can reach directly to their school district to find resources for that, for mental health support?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Well, yeah. Any community provider, each district is different, and we always have to look at costs and services and liability, but that's a logical conversation to have with a school district, like, "What does your approval process look like? What is your funding, if any?" Of course, you always look for free services, right? That's what we look for. But I would encourage any provider, any community provider to reach out and have a conversation. How can we support you? How can we help you? Believe me that schools and districts need the help. So even though I described the system that we have in place, we still need help because there's so many kids and families in need. In our times, most families come to school for help for anything. It used to be that they used to go directly to religious institutions, but there's been a shift where most families see their schools as that point of contact with most things that they need, whether it's food or issues of homelessness, basic needs, mental health. So we know who our kids are that need the help, we know who our families are, so it's very important work.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Very important work, and you're a hub of safety for so many of these kids and, for some kids, I can imagine, where they feel maybe the safest or the most comfortable for many different reasons, and that's part of the loss with all of this, is not being able to be there and have that sense of comfort in the same way. Even though you're doing everything you possibly can to preserve it, it's just not the same. But it's still a resource. It's still made up of a lot of people who care very much, obviously, and speaking to you, it's evident. If anything, is there anything that you would like the parents to know in terms of what they can do for support for themselves, for their families? Any resources you want to share now, or just in general, anything you'd like them to know while we're talking? Or, basically, what you just said, is that mostly what they need to know?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Well, I think that, for parents, what I tell parents is that, one, if you think that your child needs help, to reach out to help and reach out to school districts. Even for a school district that does not have a comprehensive mental health system in place, then they will connect you to community-based resources. I know this because of what's happening right now in the community where behavioral health is really coming in and working with all of our school districts to build a support system. I tell parents, "You know your child better than anybody. No expert can come in and tell you that they know your child better than you. That's not possible." If something concerns you, don't be afraid to ask for help. The worst thing that could happen is we talk to your child, we talk to you, and say, "You know what, this is normal adolescent behavior. This is what you can do." Or we're going to say, "You know what, we need to connect you to some really important mental health services." So reach out.

                                    The other piece that I oftentimes tell parents is that, especially right now, we have to be very intentional in making sure that kids are connecting in healthy ways with their friends or family members, even if it's via technology, that they're actually connecting, that they're not just navigating the web, that they're not just navigating the different social media outlets that they have, that there's an intentionality behind it. They need that very much right now. Those connections with caring adults and caring friends, that's very important. But if your child needs help or if you think that they need help, if you're questioning, go with your gut, ask and-

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Go with your gut.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Yeah. Yeah. Boy, I couldn't agree more. To just walk away from the screen and have some healthy connection because that virtual fatigue you mentioned is just so real and connection online is not the same as connection in person, is it?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right. Right.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       I know I'm putting you on the spot, Adela, so thank you for being a good sport, but is there anything that you would like the students in OC to know right now? Anything you would just like to make sure that they know, or anything you'd like to tell them?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yes. That's a great question. Thank you for asking me.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Sure.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              What I would tell the students is to get involved, to be a voice for mental health, be mental health advocates. Your voice is so important for that school's leader to hear. It pushes us to put things in place to support you. So be that mental health advocate. If you are interested in it, we so need your voice because, again, that puts us in a place to have conversations about we have the students that are telling us or asking us for these services, what are we going to do? Your voice matters. It matters in that advocacy piece. It matters in the services that you have on campus. If you know of a friend who's hurting, tell somebody, especially right now. Tell an adult. Tell your teacher. Tell the principal. Tell somebody if you know of somebody that's hurting, or if you're hurting, tell somebody and know that adults within the educational system, we may not say we care, but we care, and we're constantly having conversations around how to make sure that you're doing okay.

                                    But your voice is so important for that because if we don't know that you're hurting, then we don't know that you're hurting. The most important piece, and this is what I told the kids last night that I was meeting with, is that your voice is so important because what you're telling me, I can bring to my bosses and say, "I met with this great group of kids, and this is what they're telling me that they want, that they need."

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Right. And they said, "I heard it from their mouths. I know this for sure. I'm not just assuming. I'm not just guessing this would be the best for them. This is what they need, and I know it."

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Right.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       What a beautiful message.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              I have to say that I'm so inspired by this generation because they're so socially aware and they want to do something. They want to act and do something, so just go with it. Don't be afraid. Just go with it. We love to talk to students all the time. We love to hear your voices. So if you have this desire and you just haven't acted on it, just do it.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       I love that.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              You'll see that you'll have a lot of support and people that want to hear your voice.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       I love that, and the message is you matter and be empowered in this, right? Adversity leads to some positive change. I was going to ask you has there been any unexpected positive things that have come out of this, and that sounds like one to me, definitely. Anything else?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yes. Kids are coming up, and I get emails all the time, and they've stepped up. They've stepped up, and they've told us what they wanted, they have. So just do it. We're listening. We hear you.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       We hear you. Wow.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Yeah, we do.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Wow, Adela. You're just so incredible, and the work you're doing is so vital right now.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Thank you.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       On behalf of parents everywhere, thank you for supporting a team of people and making sure that there are resources there for our kids and for the families. It's just so critical. So thank you so much for all that you do.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Of course. Thank you for having me. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Absolutely. 40 minutes has flown by, so I'm going to go ahead and just wrap it up and just ask you, is there anything else that we didn't talk about that you wanted to make sure is said before we stop at all?

Dr. Adela Cruz:              I always, if I can, plug in just a reminder to everyone. If anybody's listening, in terms of provider, always, always consider your schools as primary care settings for kids. It's not just academics. So support your local school, have conversations with your superintendent, with your board members. We are a primary care setting. It's inevitable, and it's where we can support our students and families the best because we have them with us every day for seven to eight hours. So support your schools. Talk to your leaders within the educational system and advocate for that.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Thank you for that reminder. That is incredibly important. I appreciate hearing that as well. So thank you. Thank you, Adela. I hope that you can take good care and find some space to relax this weekend.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Thank you. I will.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       So nice talking with you.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Thank you so much for having me.

Kate Gosney-Hof...:       Absolutely. All right. Talk soon. Bye.

Dr. Adela Cruz:              Thank you. Bye-bye.