Each year, Compass Health’s Megan Boyle and Frances Wilder help thousands of kids with complex behavioral health needs.
Compass Health is a nonprofit mental health organization for all ages, serving five counties including Snohomish.
Boyle, director of intensive services for children, and Wilder, director of outpatient services in Snohomish County, oversee a range of programs, school-based services and treatment foster care. They work from Compass Health’s campus on Federal Avenue in Everett.
Proceeds from the annual Building Communities of Hope Gala, set for Sept. 28 at Tulalip Resort Casino, will go toward Compass Health’s two kids camp programs: Camp Mariposa and Camp Outside the Box. The event is sold out, but you can still make donations online at www.compasshealth.org/donate.
Here, Boyle, 41, of Lake Stevens, and Wilder, 57, of Mountlake Terrace, talk about behavioral health issues, coping methods and the impact they’ve seen from their work.
What drew you to this line of work?
Boyle: I think we’d both agree that this line of work is fulfilling because we have seen firsthand how instrumental these programs can be in changing lives for children and their families. We know that early intervention and prevention can help shape the course of a young person’s life.
Wilder: It’s so rewarding to know that when I come to work, I can make a difference that is seen and felt in my community. There aren’t many jobs where you can actually experience that impact.
How many kids do you work with on a yearly basis?
Wilder: We served more than 6,300 children across five counties last year alone. We also expanded our intensive services for youth, so we are now able to provide support at all levels of care across Snohomish, Skagit, Island, San Juan and Whatcom counties.
Boyle: Yes, what really sets our approach apart is the comprehensiveness of the services we provide. Because our care truly spans the full spectrum, our young clients and their families can stay with Compass Health as their home for more or less intensive behavioral health treatment, even as their needs evolve.
What causes their mental or behavioral health issues?
Boyle: Many of our clients have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences that have led to challenges at school, with peers or in their communities.
Wilder: When children or families come to us, they’re usually seeking help for a variety of reasons. Sometimes circumstantial life changes can bring about behavioral health challenges that can not only affect their lives, but also the lives of their family members.
How do these issues affect their lives?
Boyle: Many youth struggle with relationships both with family and friends. They might have difficulty attending school or feel especially vulnerable in certain situations and don’t yet know how to cope, so they act out. Our goal is to give them a safe place to talk about their feelings and hold hope that things can get better.
When should parents ask for help? Do you find that they wait too long to get help?
Boyle: It is never “too late” to seek help. We’re always ready to support our clients and encourage them to work with us to tailor our services to the challenges they face. If you’re a parent or guardian of a child who has mental or behavioral health challenges, it can be difficult to know if or when you should seek help. That’s why part of our outreach is to facilitate that open communication.
Wilder: There isn’t a clear-cut path for clients who want or need our services. That’s why, whenever possible, we integrate care within a client or family’s community to improve coping and daily living skills and to avoid disrupting their natural setting.
How do you help kids overcome their challenges?
Boyle: We help them learn appropriate coping skills, strategies to improve communication and ways to manage emotions in a healthy manner. Our goal here is to promote positive changes in behavior and help families and children work through any mental or behavioral health challenges.
One of the most effective interventions is support from a peer counselor — someone who has experience living with behavioral health challenges. When a child and/or parent has a partner, who has a shared experience, they can see that recovery is possible. Because we are a community-based outreach team, we are able to provide the support a child or family needs when and where they need it most — being able to intervene and partner with families in crisis situations helps them feel supported and builds confidence in their skills.
Wilder: For all our outpatient clients, we’re focused on providing a broad spectrum of evidence-based behavioral health services to give them the tools they need to help them in their recovery. This can take a variety of forms, whether it is in the schools, youth homeless shelters or in our outpatient offices, we make sure that our clients have access to supportive, safe environments as they work through their treatment.
Tell me more about your programs.
Boyle: Our Wraparound with Intensive Services model works to honor the family voice and choice by identifying strengths and building natural supports to foster self-sufficiency. This means enabling youth to live and thrive in their homes and communities, which helps them navigate their personal or family challenges to improve outcomes.
The same idea is applied to our camps, where campers participate in fun, traditional camp activities combined with education and support exercises led by mental health professionals and trained mentors. Kids build knowledge, coping skills and confidence by connecting with one another in a safe environment, which is critical for their development.
Wilder: We’re always investing in evidence-based practices that can be catered to an individual because we know that the challenges our clients face can often be complex. Whether we’re utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing or community support services, we build these models of care into our practice of treating the whole person and managing recovery.
How long does it take to see improvement?
Wilder: Everyone has a different timetable and a different set of goals throughout the recovery process. In fact, we continue to support our clients as they move throughout our spectrum of services, whether that’s in an outpatient program or at a community-based class.
When are you most encouraged on the job?
Boyle: Through this program, I have seen families; lives change and kids accomplish things they didn’t even think were possible. Any time we can help a child increase confidence and independence, it is a win. And perhaps most importantly, when we can help people in our community gain a greater understanding of behavioral health and how they can offer support, I am most encouraged and feel like we are really making a difference.
Wilder: Agreed. I believe in the wholeness of every person. When we can reinforce or help people discover that about themselves and move through obstacles to their well-being through our best practices, I feel we’ve been successful. I see that happening every day at Compass Health.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, email@example.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.