Council to discuss youth well-being
Project Safety Net report details next steps for city, schools
The "best collective thinking of local and national experts" on how to prevent teen suicide will be presented to the Palo Alto City Council Monday night.
Council members will discuss a 68-page document explaining the community's past and future response to five suicides by local teens that took place at the Caltrain tracks between May 2009 and January.
The deaths included three students at Gunn High School, a 13-year-old who was about to enter Gunn as a freshman, and a 2008 graduate of the school whose family said he had been under treatment for mental illness.
Youth well-being is one of the council's top five priorities for 2010.
The report to be presented Monday is the work of a committee — composed of school, city, medical and community agency staff members — known as Project Safety Net. It was co-chaired by city Recreation Division Manager Rob DeGeus and Palo Alto school district Student Services Director Carol Zepecki, who retired June 30.
"The report represents a beginning rather than an end," De Geus said Thursday.
"It's very much a check-in with the City Council to let them and the community know about how we as a community have responded to the tragic set of events we've all experienced here."
Project Safety Net recommends continuing "Track Watch," a program in which volunteers sit by the rails during hours that trains run, through the 2010-2011 school year.
Suggestions also include training school staff and youth-serving agencies in suicide-prevention strategies, specifically the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) method that has been used at Foothill College and Stanford University.
The committee also recommends that school and community groups implement a comprehensive youth program known as Project Cornerstone's 41 Developmental Assets, as well as peer-counseling programs and other school-based mental health efforts.
It proposes that the school district and the city assign a senior-level administrator to see that the recommendations are carried out.
Following the second suicide in June 2009, school officials teamed with the city and many community groups to try to build a coordinated response, resulting in Project Safety Net. The report to be presented Monday was prepared by the project's 14-member executive committee.
The group consulted with Stanford University faculty and other national experts about the best strategies to respond to a "suicide cluster" in a community.
"The report represents the best collective thinking of local and national experts, Palo Alto community leaders, parents and students on how we as a community should proceed," the document states.
Besides school and city officials, Project Safety Net had wide participation from parents, physicians, community and religious groups.
The group's stated mission is "to develop and implement an effective, comprehensive community-based mental health plan for overall youth well-being in Palo Alto."
The Palo Alto Board of Education heard a presentation from Project Safety Net in May and voted to adopt Project Cornerstone's 41 Developmental Assets.
Board members will have the full report in hand when they hold their annual two-day retreat tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2 and Aug. 3.
On Monday, the Council will be asked to refer the report to its Policy and Services Committee to discuss policy implications for the city, De Geus said.
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.