Care and Feeding

How Do I Convince Others That We Need to Intervene With a Depressed Child?

I’m worried about how long it’s been going on.

A teen sitting, looking sad.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I work at an after-school program, and I’m concerned that one of our kids may have depression. This is his second year in our town after his family moved here, and he is still sad about moving. He can often be very crabby and/or unfocused. He tends to shut down emotionally and refuses to talk to us if something is wrong. He won’t play with the other kids or try to make friends.

While I understand that this is a normal thing to be upset about for a kid his age, I’m worried about how long this has lasted. My supervisor has had me work with him on journaling and getting him to open up to us about his emotions, but I’m not sure if this is enough for him. While I am trying to get a master’s degree in counseling, I’m aware that I do not have the qualifications to diagnose him. Subsequently, I’m trying to figure out how to bring up my concerns with my supervisor so that his parents are aware and that they can help him get the care he needs. How do I go about this and have this conversation?

—Worried on the Plains

Dear WP,

Personally, I think the information you shared here is sufficient, and if provided with a more detailed account of these same observations, your supervisor would absolutely have enough information at her disposal to start figuring out the best way to address this young person’s parents about your concerns. You may not yet be credentialed to make a diagnosis, but your studies do provide you some important insight that can be helpful to the children in this program, so don’t sell yourself short.

When you speak to your boss, be as careful as you were here to avoid offering what sounds like a conclusion, but instead lay out (with as many examples as possible) the signs that you have seen that indicate that the boy may be in need of some additional support. If it is allowed, ask that you be part of a conversation with the boy’s parents so that you may share your observations directly. Do not allow your supervisor to become too swamped or otherwise engaged to address this matter; make sure that it is a priority for her. I’m glad this kid has you looking out for him, and I wish you luck in holding space for a few difficult, but very important, conversations in the weeks to come.