Sha’arim Program Helps Parents Navigate Child Mental Health Space

One thing that so many parents struggled with during the pandemic was finding appropriate help for their children – particularly when it came to their kids’ mental health needs.

“There was an increase in the number of kids who were finally getting formal diagnoses, or needing formal diagnoses,” said Layah Shagalow, the associate director of Sha’arim + Gateways. “It was just becoming so apparent a lot of things that parents don’t necessarily see because their kids are in school; they hear a report from a teacher, but it doesn’t necessarily track what they see at home. It was so much more kind of just in your face.”

To help parents navigate through some of the challenges and difficult questions, Sha’arim started the Parent Pathways program. It first started as a series of one-off pilot programs, but thanks to a grant from the women’s endowment fund, it was able to expand. Parent Pathways’ first more formal program, Mental Health in the Mishpacha, is a two-part series on Sunday, Nov. 12, and Sunday, Dec. 17. Dr. Joshua Stein, the youth services medical director at PrairieCare practicing as a general and child adolescent psychiatrist, will be speaking.

“A very common theme is to try and help families understand the mental health field and to understand kind of some of the windows and doors that you may have to go through to get support for your child,” Stein said. “It can often feel really confusing.”

Sha’arim + Gateways was established in 1999 by Chana Shagalow, Layah’s mother, to address the unmet need of disability inclusion for children and adults with special needs in the Minneapolis Jewish community. The program has expanded both in the area of education and guided social activities to include children and young adults with mild to moderate disabilities.

Layah Shagalow said there was an uptick in parents needing support and guidance and not just people that they had been typically working with. 

“We started to hear parents saying ‘We just really need more resources,’” Layah Shagalow said. “We try to speak to every single individual family that reaches out to us, but there’s also a ton of families that don’t know about us who need a specific thing, or need more resources. And when we’re looking at it, this type of resource just really wasn’t out there so much from the Jewish community.”

Stein, who grew up in the Minneapolis Jewish community and got comfortable speaking to groups of people because of his experiences in youth group plays, acknowledges that the stakes of parenting and being a child are high.

“You can’t really make mistakes as a kid these days because someone will whip out a phone and film it, or if you send a text that gets misinterpreted, it can last forever,” he said. “And I would argue that none of the companies that run social media have any care except for their bottom line, and they build products that are incredibly dependency-forming for children. We live in a different world.”

The point of the programs is to give people the skills needed to help navigate a difficult topic that does not have a linear path.

“It’s a real journey, and we’d like to be able to give all parents – not just the parents of the students that we support at Sha’arim or parents of children that haven’t identified us,  but all parents who are raising children in this day and age to have access to as much information as possible,” said Chana Shagalow.