HAVERHILL — The school department is looking to spend $54,000 to analyze eight years of data gathered through youth risk surveys that asked students various questions including what risky behaviors they may be involved in such as substance abuse, sexual activity and suicidal ideation.

School Physician Dr. John Maddox told the City Council on Tuesday that Youth Risk Behavior Surveys were conducted in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2021 but the raw data still needs to be analyzed.

Maddox said the school department has committed $13,000 for data analysis. He requested an additional $41,000 from the city’s youth services and mental health account, which Councilor Thomas Sullivan said Mayor James Fiorentini has agreed to provide.

Maddox said it is important to focus on the wellbeing of the city’s youth and that analysis of the surveys is a first step. He said the pandemic exacerbated the problem and that the mental health crisis among youth is as bad as it has ever been. Maddox suggested his request for money be considered a co-investment between the city and the schools.

Councilor John Michitson said the analysis of the surveys will serve as the basis for implementing a strategy to reduce substance abuse and address other concerns among the city’s youths including mental health issues.

“This is an important step and to me this is really the path forward ... it’s going to have to be a co-investment of the city and the schools,” Maddox said. “I think for the longest time I’ve watched people point fingers ... it’s the school’s problem or it’s the city’s problem and what I’ve found is that it’s just an excuse to do nothing.”

Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua asked Maddox why he wants to use data that is eight years old considering the pandemic has only been around since early 2020 and that students surveyed eight years ago have moved on.

Maddox said in order to access federal Drug-Free Communities grants it requires looking at trends, monitoring the situation over time and comparing Haverhill’s numbers to other school districts.

He said Haverhill had a “wonderful” track record from 1996 to 2007 in conducting and analyzing youth surveys and the city was successful at leveraging federal Drug Free Communities grants and that it made a dramatic difference.

“My answer is the information we are looking at is very current and we’d like to do another survey this spring,” he said, indicating he would also be seeking $10,000 for that survey.

Sullivan said the mayor intends to fund the request for $41,000 and made a motion to send a letter to the mayor in support of Maddox’s request.

“This is important work and we need these results,” Sullivan said. “It’s important to get the analysis done on what’s been trending over the last eight years and I fully support doing another study this spring.”

Councilor Melinda Barrett said the city’s retail cannabis shops had promised to fund youth surveys when they came before the council for their special permits to operate.

Maddox said he has not received any of that promised funding

“They were gun-ho for helping,” Barrett said. “They also talked about purchasing educational materials.”

Maddox said schools purchased health education materials out of its own budget and received no funding from retail cannabis shops.

Barrett added to Sullivan’s motion and requested the council ask the mayor to review the city’s Host Community Agreements with its cannabis retailers.

“Perhaps it was oversight or miscommunication, but it certainly was emphatic that they were going to help,” she said. “It was part of the conditions for their special permit requests.”

In a new effort to seek a drug free communities grant, Maddox said the district chose a new “Attitudes and Behavior Survey” for 2021 targeting middle and high school students. That survey has not been analyzed either, he said.

“It doesn’t just look at what the kids are doing that is bad, but looks at what their strengths and assets are,” he said. “We liked it for its holistic approach and we would like to continue using that survey.”

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