New funding and expanded sites open more opportunities to connect with students
WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash., – Compass Health will offer free weekly youth mental health programs this summer for students across Whatcom County, keeping them connected and engaged in enrichment activities, and providing vital continuity of care, social interactions and skill-building during the school break.
With $30,000 in funding from the Chuckanut Health Foundation and Whatcom Community Foundation, the summer youth programs will cover a range of topics, including social skills, LGBTQIA+ acceptance, anger management, self-care, building healthy relationships, coping, anxiety, and more. Program leaders also will organize community outings, offering new experiences at local destinations with extra support for those who struggle with social anxiety following the pandemic.
Behavioral health professionals will meet with students for weekly 90-minute group activities from June 27 to August 14, 2023. Any student currently enrolled in Compass Health’s youth behavioral health services – currently 446 youth countywide – is welcome to attend any one of the many school-based locations closest to them this summer. Individuals and families who are not enrolled with Compass Health youth services can ask their school for a referral before the end of the school year. As a Medicaid program, certain requirements are in place to qualify.
“It’s game-changing to be expanding our summer programs with generous support from these amazing funders. In addition to our group activities, for the first time ever, we’re able to purchase workbooks and other items so that we can provide students with individualized, purposeful, and fun quality materials that they can take home and continue to work on throughout the year,” said Shannon Webb, Compass Health director of Whatcom County outpatient services. “The kids will feel like somebody is investing in them, personally, as they learn to develop and grow their social skills, learn how to be a good friend, and how to overcome things like social anxiety and fear of going on excursions. Since the pandemic, some kids haven’t left the house much. Our summer programs give them something to look forward to and an excuse to leave the house and get back to interacting in their community.”
Compass Health will offer its summer enrichment program at Birchwood Elementary, Nooksack Valley School District’s administration office, Ferndale School District’s administration office, Shuksan Middle School, Compass Health’s McLeod office, and via telehealth.
“Students continue to be a top priority as we address our community’s behavioral health needs. These Compass Health summer programs help students stay connected and learn important behavioral health skills in a supported environment,” said Stacey Alles, Compass Health’s chief operating officer. “This summer program offers a vital bridge, extending and continuing to relationships through the summer gap. We know this continuity makes a meaningful impact on students’ overall health and wellbeing.”
Also new this summer, Compass Health will offer online evening webinars for families and guardians of youth clients to help adults connect with other caregivers, support the therapy process, and learn about different diagnoses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and gender dysphoria. While not required, this additional offering helps families to continue healthy habits at home.
The summer outreach program is an evolution of Compass Health’s partnerships with all seven school districts across Whatcom County, built from collaborations that enable students to receive in-school behavioral health counseling and other supports. The program has expanded dramatically in the past few years, thanks to the availability of telehealth technology and increasing equitable access to care. During the 2022-23 school year, 717 students were referred to Compass Health, up from just 122 referrals in 2020-2021.
“We’re still seeing the aftereffects of the pandemic, and our students are still recovering. Programs like Compass Health’s school-based and summer youth programs help nurture our children so that they can feel confident and supported,” said Chris Cochran, director of counseling and mental health at Bellingham Public Schools. “The way we take care of our most vulnerable children says a lot about our strength as a whole community.”
In addition to its outreach to elementary, middle and high schools, Compass Health is partnering with Whatcom Community College to serve as a preferred practicum location for the school’s new bachelor’s degree in social work. The partnership will enable interns to gain valuable experience by working directly with Compass Health’s clients under supervision, increase the number of clinicians working with youth in schools, and to help address the industry-wide workforce shortage across behavioral health.
To learn more about summer outreach and other programs offered by Compass Health in Whatcom County, visit www.compasshealth.org. To donate towards Compass Health youth programs or other initiatives, visit www.compasshealth.org/donate/.