How Jennifer Siebel Newsom Became a Youth Mental Health Champion

How Jennifer Siebel Newsom Became a Youth Mental Health Champion

The first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, has spent decades highlighting, examining and improving the mental well-being of young people.

But for her, the subject transcends professional duties. It’s personal.

When Siebel Newsom was 6, her older sister died in an accident, leaving her to deal with grief and emotional upheaval at a young age.

She knows firsthand, she said, what it’s like to be a child who has experienced loss and trauma, like so many California children have endured during the pandemic.

“I think we went to therapy once (after my sister died) and then it was like, move on, it’s fine, we’re just going to pretend like nothing happened,” he said. she said in a recent interview with EdSource, her eyes filling with tears. “And it was traumatic to lose your best friend and your sister. So I always knew, without your sanity, what do you have?”

Siebel Newsom went to college, got an MBA, then worked in Hollywood for a few years before turning to documentary filmmaking.

She has produced four award-winning documentaries focusing on mental health, equity, gender and related topics, starting with ‘Miss Representation’ in 2011 about how representations of women are too often focused on beauty and sexuality. , and the impact on young people.

“The Mask You Live In”, released in 2015, examines how boys struggle with expectations of masculinity.

In 2020, “The Great American Lie” examined racial and income inequality in the United States. More recently, “Fair Play” focuses on the difficulties women face when trying to balance work and family life.

Beyond the camera, Siebel Newsom has been a persistent and outspoken advocate in her husband’s administration for students with trauma, anxiety, depression and other emotional difficulties.

This year, the Newsom administration earmarked $4.7 billion for youth mental health programs in California, seen as the nation’s biggest investment in the emotional well-being of children ever.

The money will go to a host of programs, including:

  • 40,000 new school counselors and other mental health professionals.
  • Community schools that provide social services to students and their families.
  • Simplified Medi-Cal coverage for young people to receive free mental health services.
  • A one-stop online hub for youth mental health services that includes helplines, videos and advice for parents.

As the first partner, Siebel Newsom lobbied for better nutrition in schools, better access to the outdoors for children, and other youth wellness initiatives.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, praised Siebel Newsom’s “constant and persistent” efforts on behalf of California’s children, families and teachers.

“She has tremendous empathy for the traumatic experiences young people and their families have had during the pandemic and has been instrumental in organizing awareness of these issues as well as resources for social-emotional supports and practices to schools,” Darling-Hammond said. “She has a dynamic vision of whole-child, whole-family and whole-community education systems that truly nurture all students so they can thrive – nourishing their bodies with food nutritious, their minds with opportunities for deeper inquiry, and their hearts with a sense of belonging, acceptance and love.”

Siebel Newsom’s efforts are especially welcome after so many years of California’s funding shortfall for mental health services, said Loretta Whitson, director of the California Association of School Counselors.

“She knows full well that comprehensive mental health services in California schools have been inadequate. While the Governor’s recent investment will add additional school counselors to the workforce, there will be an even greater need for ‘access films and program support material such as the Siebel Newsom documentary series,” Whitson said. “(We) would love to work with her and support her efforts.”

Siebel Newsom is also a mother of four who, like most parents, has experienced the anguish of watching her children suffer emotional distress during the pandemic.

“I had to teach (them) and myself too. It really helped me,” she said at a recent conference of school counselors and administrators in Napa. “When children go through these challenges, we have to realize that it’s not their fault. … As a parent, there’s nothing worse than seeing your child suffer and feeling helpless to help .”

Her own experiences, as well as those of other parents, have helped shape her advocacy efforts.

In 2021, Siebel Newsom toured the state to listen to parents’ frustrations and challenges during the pandemic, gathering ideas on what could help families cope with school closings, quarantines, the loss of loved ones and other difficulties. She repeatedly heard about the technology addiction of children – young people who rarely left their bedrooms because they were glued to their phones, or spent countless hours a day playing games, or were consumed by the media. social, or had completely disengaged from family and friends.

Together with a group she founded, California Partners Project, she used the information to create toolkits for families, schools and others to help children overcome technology addiction.

“I will always be the person who says the elephant in the room is technology and social media addiction and all that stuff,” she told EdSource. “Our children’s brains are still plastic and not fully configured, and they are being manipulated by this technology which creates more isolation and disconnects us from each other and from relationships. So we knew we had to address this issue. holistically.”

One of his solutions to these challenges is to get young people to go out more and eat more nutritious foods. She was a major funder of the state’s Farm to School grant program, a $60 million initiative to pay for school gardens, cooking classes and other projects aimed at bringing food more fresher foods to schools and teaching children where their food comes from.

To encourage kids to get outside more, she launched the California State Parks Adventure Pass, which provides free admission to all California fourth-graders and their families to 19 state parks, and the California State Library Parks Pass. , which provides free state park passes. available initially with a library card. Amy Cranston, executive director of the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for California, said Siebel Newsom’s advocacy has helped bring attention to the youth mental health crisis and promote wellness in schools.

“As we can see from her documentary work, she is acutely aware and informed of these critical issues that we face as a society,” Cranston said. “We are very grateful for his support and for the governor’s office in recognizing the vital role this plays in student success, in school and in life.”

Darling-Hammond said Siebel Newsom “cares for the state’s 6 million children with the same sense of concern and compassion she has for her own.”

As the governor’s wife, Siebel Newsom feels in a unique position to merge her personal interest in youth welfare with policies that affect everyday Californians.

With the pandemic, increased use of technology by young people and a general increase in vitriol and polarization, she said she felt a sense of urgency about her work and issues for children. Californians.

“This is a public health emergency,” she said. “Given what’s happening in the country and around the world, it’s critical that California succeeds right now. And that starts with the well-being of our children.”

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