WOOD RIVER JCT. — Chariho substance abuse prevention counselors appeared before the School Committee Tuesday to warn members that without an infusion of funding the program will end on Feb. 2.
Accompanied by several representatives from the three Chariho communities, including Richmond Police Chief Elwood Johnson and Hopkinton Police Detective John Forbes, high school counselor Kate Tokarski and middle school counselor Terri Censabella asked the committee to ensure that the district’s annual funding of $28,195 be continued when planning for the new budget begins after the holidays.
The Chariho funding is even more critical, because unlike other school districts in Rhode Island, the Chariho program does not receive funding from federal block grants distributed by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH).
“This limited funding is only able to stretch so far and currently does not cover the Chariho Regional School District,” the counselors’ brief reads. “We continue to advocate that the state increase their funding to BHDDH in an effort to encompass Chariho counselors in the budget.”
Tokarski, who works 25 hours per week, said she had served 392 students during the past year.
“Students come to me, not only because they are using drugs but honestly, more likely because they have a parent or sibling who is using,” she said. “I’ve had several students who have lost one parent or even both to substance abuse, who have been removed or have removed themselves due to substance abuse at home. I have students who are in group homes, who are bounced from place to place, I have students who have been homeless.”
Censabella, a counselor at the middle school for 13 years, said the middle school years are a critical time in the emotional development of students who are preparing to make what is often a difficult transition to the high school.
“Very simply, we just try to plant seeds to help students make the right choices,” she said. “By taking the time in this critical time period of the middle school years, it’s so important for the foundation for continuing on the path of one way or the other.”
Also cited in the brief to the committee is the youth suicide rate in Washington County — the highest in the state.
“Washington County has the highest suicide rate for youth, ages 15-24,” the document states. “70 percent of youth who make a suicide attempt are frequent users of alcohol and/or other drugs. Over 90 percent of youth who die by suicide had at least one psychiatric illness at the time of death; in about half such cases, the psychiatric illness was present, although often unrecognized, for two years or more.”
Committee Chair Sylvia Stanley asked why Chariho substance abuse prevention programs had missed out on state funding.
“If we have one of the highest suicide rates and we’re having all these other problems, why are we not funded?” she asked. “Washington County is no longer part of Rhode Island?”
“They went to the prevention regional model,” Censabella replied. “That’s kind of where we got left out.”
Chariho is still attempting to get a share of the state funding. Asked by Stanley if she had contacted the district’s state legislators to ask for help, Censabella said she had.
“We sent out letters to every single one of them,” she said.