Prevention stressed at behavioral health forum

DOVER — It’s a known fact that prevention works, said Susan Cycyk, the director of the state Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the right steps to take from there, though.

“Just knowing that prevention works doesn’t mean we know how to do prevention,” Ms. Cycyk said.

To that end, more than 400 people — including mental health providers, school staff and state workers — registered for the Prevention and Behavioral Health Forum, held Monday at Dover Downs.

The day was all about learning “the knowledge and the skills to take the concept of ‘prevention works’ and (making) it real in our daily work,” Ms. Cycyk said.

The forum offered attendees an opportunity to hear from both local and national speakers and catch up on updates and best practices in the field.

For the first time this year, organizers split the forum into two single-day events, the first in April and the second in May.

Holding the forum over two months instead of on two consecutive days made it easier for attendees to get time off work, Ms. Cycyk said.

While the theme for Monday  prevention, the second date will focus on mental health.

Prevention is a broad topic, Ms. Cycyk said. Essentially, “it’s about strengthening the developmental assets for people and reducing the risk factors.”

Workshop sessions during the day-long event covered everything from best practices in working with transgender youth to understanding the effects of poverty.

Another workshop looked at social media communications and another examined the faith community’s role in prevention negative behavior.

Gail Zuppo, a family crisis therapist from West Seaford Elementary School, who attended the forum Monday, said that prevention is an important part of her job.

“Instead of being reactive, we try to help the teachers and the children to be more proactive, to identify the children and try to find something we may be able to offer to change that child’s behavior in school,” she said.

As part of her job, Ms. Zuppo consults with teachers, meets with parents in their homes, and works with children in small groups and individually.

“My hope is that something I learn today will be brought back to this school so that I can use that with the children who are on my caseload as well as other children in the school,” she said.

“We have a very supportive teaching atmosphere at West Seaford. We coordinate what we do and what we learn.”

For instance, she said, she was struck by the idea of the “Good Behavior Game,” which promotes positive group behavior — which she heard about from keynote speaker Dr. Dennis Embry.

“That sounds wonderful. That sounds like something that our children would benefit from because they’re continuously trying to teach good behaviors and how to ignore the less positive behaviors,” Ms. Zuppo said.

Dr. Embry is the president and senior scientist PAXIS Institute, which identifies and evaluates behavioral prevention programs. He spoke about how early intervention can reduce the likelihood of behavioral disorders.

And in the end, taking steps to prevent behavioral problems before they happen can strengthen the neighborhoods, schools and families.

“I think that it’s really important to all of us that we listen to the children in our lives and pay attention to them and just listen and talk,” Ms. Cycyk said.

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