Program provides connection points to care during school closures
WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash., August 10, 2022 – For many students, schools are a lifeline to critical resources – including teachers, counselors, and other trusted faculty – that leave a gap during summer break. This year, students across Whatcom County are accessing mental health services all summer long at school sites that are open for food distribution and summer enrichment, thanks to a new program from Compass Health, funded by a grant from the United Way of Whatcom County’s Impact Fund.
“The last two and a half years have been devastating to our children and unfortunately, we are now witnessing the impact that the isolation and upheaval of their lives has had on their mental health,” said Shannon Webb, clinical program manager for Compass Health’s Whatcom Child and Family Team. “Through this summer program, we can continue to create access points for kids to get the help they need, even while schools are closed, which oftentimes serve as a conduit for connecting kids to care or as a safe place for kids to ask for help.”
The summer program engages families and children in the community by stationing Compass Health staff members and clinicians at school locations that have meal distribution access during the summer, to introduce themselves and the organization, answer questions, hold one-on-one as well as group therapy sessions on-site, and help those interested enroll in additional services, if needed. As of the start of August, mental health workers had provided 140 group counseling services, with groups for grief and loss, anger management, LGBTQ, stress management, social skills and trauma support.
Currently, the program is operating at Bellingham High School, Options High School, Squalicum High School, Shuksan Middle School, Kulshan Middle School, Alderwood Elementary School, Nooksack Valley High School, and Nooksack Valley Middle School.
“As a behavioral health provider, it is our job to recognize how the mental health needs of our children have evolved in the aftermath of the pandemic and identify ways in which we can adapt and expand to effectively address them,” said Stacey Alles, Compass Health’s chief operating officer. “This program has allowed us to continue care for children who received services throughout the school year in a location that is familiar, comfortable and accessible for them.”
The summer outreach is an evolution of a school-based program that expanded dramatically during the 2020-2021 school year, with funding from the United Way grant to use telehealth to virtually connect kids to therapy during the pandemic. At that time, the organization was only in two districts, but expanded to five districts in 2021-2022, and starting this fall will be in all seven districts across Whatcom County – a 485 percent growth rate during a period of time when the pandemic has seen many programs restrict access.
During the 2021-2022 school year, the team deployed more than 50 telehealth devices and stationed clinicians directly within school districts across the county, giving students the option of in-person and virtual care. During that time, Compass Health received 600 referrals for services and saw an increase in the number of students who followed through with treatment after being referred by a teacher, counselor or other school contact, thanks to expanded, equitable access.
Overall, the school-based programs provided 1,700 kids with behavioral health care in the last school year and recorded the largest growth in Compass Health’s program history in Whatcom County.
“The last few years have been extremely challenging for our students and the impacts of those challenges are visible in the growing mental health needs that we are seeing across the district,” said Chris Cochran, Mental Health Coordinator at Bellingham Public Schools. “Now more than ever, our students need mental health support. We are so thankful for partners like Compass Health who have been instrumental in helping us ensure that our students can get the help they need when they need it.”
As of January 2022, Compass Health had dedicated clinicians in all districts, except for Lynden and Baker. However, there are plans to put clinicians in place in these districts in the 2022-2023 school year.
“The growth that we’ve seen across our school-based and youth programs is unprecedented and serves as confirmation that kids continue to suffer in the ‘shadow pandemic’ and the needs for mental health services will only continue to increase,” Alles noted. “As an organization, we are working hard to meet these needs and innovative solutions such as this summer program and telehealth are ways in which we are making strides in doing so.”
To learn more about the summer program and other programs offered by Compass Health in Whatcom County, visit www.compasshealth.org.