Reaching the Youth in our Community
We first met Jessica when she was in her first year of high school. Honestly, she could have been mistaken for twice that age. She had aged too fast.
Jessica was in foster care system as a toddler and juggled around until she was adopted several years later. She had been a vibrant student in elementary and middle school, only to suddenly become disinterested in school. Jessica told me she was tired of having to maintain a perfect exterior. She began drinking—very quickly her use escalated. Jessica started using large amounts of street drugs. She began contacting others who she would use with and began engaging in self harming behaviors as well. She also began to get into frequent confrontations with her peers. While she was intoxicated, Jessica was sexually assaulted, and subsequently had episodes of extreme anxiety, long depressive episodes which would result in further self-harming behaviors or increased substance use…
This is not an uncommon story. Many of our clients in the Youth SUD program experience similar trauma histories. As one client said, “I feel like life left me behind.” That’s who this program exists for. The let down, left out, and left behind.
Everything starts with vision—CSNW’s vision is to bring services to the people who need them the most, who also may be able to access them the least. We do this in a number of areas—traditional Mental health outpatient services, PACT and CST services, housing, and SUD. In each one of these capacities our mission remains consistent: reducing barriers, increasing access to care. There is no better example of this than our Youth SUD program.
4 years ago we were seeing little involvement from youth in our chemical dependency programs. There were low enrollment and high drop out rates. But our belief was that there was a deep need present in the community. We identified availability of the program and flexibility of treatment as two large reasons why individuals weren’t participating. We also witnessed an overall community deficit as schools were hard pressed to find funding to support counselors or programs from within. CSNW innovated partnering with schools to place SUD counselors directly into the system.
One of the unique features of our model is that our Youth SUD counselors are Masters Level clinicians, most of which have dual designations—LMHC and CDP/T. This enables our counselors to address a variety of issues—just like Jessica’s. By dealing with both substance use disordering alongside mental health challenges allows a single counselor to offer a more integrative care. Additionally, our clinicians are better able to relate to teachers as peers we’ve found.
Currently we have 9 Youth Counselors (with plans on adding 7 more), in over 15 different schools (LaCenter, Washougal, Vancouver schools—with Evergreen coming on line in the next several months). At this time we have 105 different participants. Historically CD has generally been limited by having one curriculum that they rely on. We wanted to address this, and so specifically have trained our clinicians in 4 different evidence based treatment practices. This, again, gives us the latitude to place a client with the right fit for treatment styles and outcomes.
The advantage of being in the schools is that we minimize transportation barriers. A client who might have to take 3 busses, spanning hours of time, now is able to participate in our program. Additionally, individuals who may have serious enough behavioral disturbances that might normally necessitate taking weeks or months off of school to participate in an inpatient or intensive outpatient program, are now able to participate while maintaining school.
Jessica began meeting with us her freshman year, attending groups while at the school. Because services were in the school, Jessica was able to access help while her parents were not on board with her getting help from counselors. What was really encouraging, is that while we were able to work with Jessica, our counselor began to work with the parents and slowly built trust. Over time Jessica’s SUD counselor began to work on family relationships during the course of counseling. This highlights the strength of the program and its counselors.
After a year and a half, Jessica is now enrolled in a new school where she has been a straight A student for the past three semesters. She has not had any self-harming episodes in over six months. She has been clean and sober for over 8 months, has gotten a part time job, had her probation ended early because of good behavior and has “actual relationships with her parents”. She was also able to work on depression and anxiety, process past events and find new ways to cope with overwhelming emotions.
When other staff would come and work in groups, they would comment that Jessica looked like a 30 year old. The day before her graduation from treatment, the same staff member saw Jessica walking down the hall and commented that “I did not even recognize her” When asked about the difference he saw, he commented that she looked like a 17 year old kid.”
I love that we are able to help kids who have been forced to grow up very quickly return to “being kids” and get to experience life at age appropriate levels.