What began years ago as a convenient way for counselors to visit student clients outside of school has evolved with the COVID-19 pandemic into an effective mental health support system for students in the Yankton’s Boys & Girls Club.
The club’s partnership with Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health Services (L&CBHS) began about four years ago with L&CBHS using the club as an alternative facility for its youth counseling services, Koty Frick, Executive Director of Yankton Boys & Girls Club, told the Press & Dakotan.
“When I arrived, (L&CBHS) started doing a social skills group,” she said. “They would do a first through third grade social skills group, a fourth and fifth grade social skills group, and a teen social skills group.”
To participate, students simply had to have their parents sign a permission form, Frick said.
“It allowed the kids to go into a small group and get advice from licensed counselors on how to build their social skills and their confidence and emotional regulation skills,” she said.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has also raised concerns about the effects of isolation on mental health and well-being.
In Yankton, the existing partnership between the club and L&CBHS has expanded to meet these youth needs.
“When COVID hit, we had a great opportunity to get an iPad from Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health as they were doing a lot of telehealth visits,” Frick said. “They said, ‘If you have kids in crisis and they need to talk to a licensed counsellor, even crisis intervention, they can go to your office iPad and talk to (a counselor) about what is happening. “
Although virtual counseling isn’t ideal, the electronic lifeline has been very helpful during the pandemic, she said.
But the need for mental health support continued and grew.
“After the pandemic, we saw a lot of depression and anxiety,” she said. “We also saw a lot of outbursts of anger and our young children withdrawing.”
L&CBHS Certified Counselors trained club staff to identify behaviors that would merit referral for mental health screening and mental health first aid,” Frick said. This includes the ability to identify disturbing behaviors but also to interact with a child who is suicidal or contemplating suicide.
“I see my staff noticing a bit more that they have to make recommendations,” she said.
Concern behavior may include withdrawal from previously cheerful and outgoing children, increased frequency and intensity of upset over small things, or taking a long time to calm down after being upset , said Frick.
Currently, many more children who attend the club are already seeing counsellors, Frick noted, and the mental health and wellbeing services available have continued to expand, along with referrals.
All references to L&CBHS begin with talking to a child’s family and getting their support and consent, she said.
“Whenever (the club) refers a young person with parental permission, we will work with them,” Tami Ambroson, director of youth and family services at L&CBHS, told Press & Dakotan. “We were able to work with using the space at the club to meet the kids and provide therapy services, but we expanded that. We (now) have a staff member who visits every Wednesday and completes socio-emotional groups at the Academy site and at the traditional site.
L&CBHS has also partnered with the club in its youth diversion program. Through this program, young people who have trouble with the law can be referred to the club by the state attorney’s office. The goal of the program is for club staff to build a positive relationship with these students and work to get them back on track, deflecting future problems.
“We provide a mental health assessment to every young person who goes through diversion,” she said. “From this assessment, we make recommendations for any additional mental health services or supports that may benefit the young person or family.
Both the Academy program and the Diversion program began within the past two years and are growing, due to increased awareness and availability, but also the fallout from the pandemic, Ambroson said.
“We have a great partnership in place and we’ve been able to grow through these discussions, collaboration and communication,” she said. “Additionally, we have seen a significant increase in mental health needs across the board, especially among young people.”
Ambroson said counselors are seeing a significant increase in the number of young people with anxiety and social needs, especially among young children who are new to the school system.
“Without having been exposed to daycare or other places during the pandemic, young people are coming in without those social skills that they would have been exposed to in those settings before the pandemic,” Ambroson said.
Some of the basic skills that are missing may include how to communicate, how to communicate with peers and how to present yourself, she said.
Meanwhile, families say they are happy with the progress their children are making with the various mental wellness options available through the club, Ambroson said.
“Also, we got a lot of comments about the location (at the club) being so beneficial because we were able to go and see their kids rather than them having to worry about transportation or work schedules,” said she declared. “I think it really helps with that consistency and breaking down those kinds of barriers to meeting their kids.”
The positive results also tend to show up in every child’s daily life, Ambroson said.
“The improvements we see are in their day-to-day functioning,” she said. “They go back to school, chat with their friends and, if they work, they go to work regularly.”
As a mental health service provider, collaboration with other community agencies and programs is important to L&CBHS, Ambroson said.
“The partnership we have with the club really highlights that and shows how working together, being able to have this open and ongoing collaboration with community partners, allows us to have more of an impact on young people,” he said. she stated.