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Lindsey Lehet works as a prevention coordinator at the Youth & Family Service of Haddam-Killingworth, Inc., to help keep youth out of trouble, educate the public about risky behaviors, and make a difference in the community. Photo b Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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We’ve all heard the saying before and we repeat it as often as we think it necessary: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But for Lindsey Lehet, prevention coordinator for the Youth and Family Services of Haddam-Killingworth Inc., prevention means a whole lot more for the youth she works with.
To Lindsey, prevention is keeping the youth out of trouble, educating the public about risky behaviors, and making a difference in the lives of young people.
“The goal is to educate, to prevent the behavior before things start, or to acknowledge problems that are happening,” she explains.
“Like if there’s a pink elephant in the room, let’s call it out. Because if there’s a problem, let’s handle it, deal with it, not sweep it under the rug before it gets even bigger—when we can do something before it gets bigger,” she adds.
The behaviors she addresses or aims to address are underage drinking, drug usage, teenage suicide, and vaping, just to name a few.
That last is one is a relatively new occurrence that Lindsey says came swiftly and unexpectedly.
“Vaping came on like wildfire and nobody was able to get ahead of it as fast as it came on,” she says.
Kids are most commonly vaping tobacco products, but Lindsey sees on the horizon the use of CBD (cannabidiol) oil as another danger in conjunction with vaping. CBD is an active chemical compound commonly found in cannabis.
She fears that consumers might be privately using vape tools as instruments for inhaling CBD. Videos on the web seem to confirm her fear.
“You can disguise it; you can hide it,” she says.
She says that CBD contains a trace of THC, the major active ingredient in marijuana that causes a high. That trace amount may be enough for it to have an effect or to be detected in a medical test.
“So, if you have a truck driver, a person who has a [commercial driver’s license], taking CBD oil because they’re nervous at night or they just can’t fall asleep,” she cites as an example. “They’re told it’s non-THC. But then they go and get tested. It tests positive for THC.
“They can lose their license,” she notes.
The problem is compounded by the relative lack of information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the market jumping ahead of the regulators, producing countless CBD products in a variety of forms.
“With the CBD, it’s still kind of in that hazy stage where nobody knows what’s going on,” she says.
She hopes that Youth & Family Services can get in front of it before it becomes a bigger problem.
“But this is where prevention work (comes in), when we get a lead like that. Let’s do all the research we can to stop it, and block it, and let people know about it. And then try to do what we can for our community members,” she says.
Challenges to Prevention Work
Lindsey says that her position as prevention coordinator at the Youth & Family Services is made possible by a grant from the Connecticut Strategic Prevention Framework Coalition Initiative funded by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
The Youth & Family Services of Haddam-Killingworth, Inc. (YFSHK) is a private, nonprofit youth service bureau that provides human health services to promote the development and well-being of the community. It is one of more than 100 youth service bureaus in Connecticut mandated to address the interests of youth through 18 years and their families by providing services and delivering prevention or intervention programs in the schools and communities.
YFSHK needs grants and donations to continue much of its work. The grant that allows Lindsey to work expires in June 2020; thus, her role can only continue beyond that time if the same grant is extended or if another federal grant is procured.
There are other challenges she faces.
As difficult as it is to implement prevention programs, the effectiveness of prevention is all but impossible to measure.
“How do you prove prevention?” Lindsey points out. “How do you talk about prevention when it’s supposed to be done beforehand? You can’t get good numbers on it.”
Then there are the misconceptions about her role; she occasionally finds herself needing to clear the air about the nature of her work.
Because her job seeks to prevent harmful behavior, some people see her role as being a “kill-joy” or a fun-stopper.
At a conference for TiPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS), a skills-based training to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving, she was given an unexpected challenge to educate a roomful of people about her job.
“So, I’m sitting in the seminar and I’m surrounded by brewery people and liquor-store people. And (the instructor) says, ‘Right there,’ pointing to me. ‘She is the person you’re going to have to go up against.’ And I sat there and I’m like ‘That is not what I am about.’”
But as the event progressed, her responsibilities became clearer.
“I have to say though, as the seminar went on…people then saw my position as a positive thing. We are there to give people help when they need it. We are there to educate community members,” she says. “So, when it all came down to it, he helped me by pointing that out because every one of those people who left that seminar—there were about 10 of us—every one that left that seminar now, we stay in contact.
“And at the end of it all, they actually realized that what everybody is doing is prevention,” she adds.
Answers and Assets
Lindsey points out that the answer to preventing most harmful behaviors is to make the youth realize that having fun and doing cool things do not mean engaging in harmful behaviors. She wants the youth to also know that there are places that can help them in times of trouble.
“(At) Youth & Family Services, we want to be the place where yes, if you need something, please contact us. We can get you resources, we can get you what you need, or work hard trying to find it. But we also want to bring the fun. We want to bring the Kids Night Outs,” she says, mentioning one of the agency’s programs.
Others include the holiday crafts fair, where kids have a table for activities; Run-a-Muck, where the youth go through an obstacle course; and a youth-to-youth conference held in Rhode Island.
“We talk about assets, and the more assets a student has or the youth have—meaning, they know people, they know that they could go to a faith community or come to Youth & Family Services and just know that they’re accepted, or know that they have somewhere to go—the more assets a student has or the youth have, the less likely they are to do something. Because they know that they could go talk to somebody and not keep it in,” she explains.
She says that her work has become a fun part of her family life with her husband, Kevin, and her two boys, Kody and Max.
She also acknowledges that the people she works with make her job easier and cites how prevention coordinators in different towns share ideas, materials, and presentations to help each other out.
“People in this field are so selfless. They don’t believe in reinventing the wheel,” she says. “This is by far, the coolest position that I ever had and will ever have.”
The Youth & Family Services of Haddam-Killingworth can be reached at 860-345-7498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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