In 2011, Youth Health Services, Inc., based in Elkins, established its school-based services in Pocahontas County. This year, the five-member team situated its headquarters in the annex building at Pocahontas County High School.
Therapists Angela Lester, Sarah Begg and Jerry Dale, and Family Service Specialists Peggy Stull and Kendra Taylor serve the students at all five schools, providing mental health services to children three through 17.
“It can be something traumatic that happened in their past and they need help working through it,” Stull said. “It can be disruptive behaviors and problems adjusting to school or problems adjusting to changes in a family. It can be anything.”
Children are referred to YHS by the schools, court systems, DHHR or even their parents. After an initial evaluation, the students are placed with a therapist and they begin the process of healing.
Along with individual care, YHS provides group and family therapy, which includes visits to the home.
“We provide services in the home,” Stull said. “We do parent education. Kendra and I do supportive counseling, just helping the kids practice. A lot of that is done in the home with the parent present and saying, ‘okay mom, if he starts having increased anxiety, these are the warning signs. This is what you’re going to see. This is what you can do to help and these are the terms and the words that he’s used to hearing.’”
Whether it takes a few weeks, months or years, the therapists always see a difference in their clients once they are ready to end the program. Sometimes the students are ready to move on and sometimes, they need a little push.
“I had this client who was with me for about a year and a half – she just got to the point where she was in really good shape,” Dale said. “She was a good student, a good athlete, she’s getting along reasonably well with her family, just really doing well. It was time for me to [end the services] and she wasn’t happy about it. She wanted the safety net. What we do, we try to gradually back away from them, but still be available in case they would have some issues.”
Lester added that it helps to work in the schools on a daily basis because they are still able to see their former clients and are able to see how well they are adjusting.
“We’ve had children who have gone through the program that have dealt with trauma and completed therapy, and have been discharged,” Lester said. “Sarah has a couple of kids she discharged back in the early fall, and I see them all the time at school, just in passing, and they’re doing great.
“It’s really nice to be able to see that process complete,” she continued. “Some kids might never get there and we’ll continue providing services as long as we need to, but there are a lot of them that do complete the process and it’s really refreshing to see that.”
Lester has been a therapist for nearly 27 years and has worked with individuals of all ages, but said she enjoys working with children the most.
“I actually love it,” she said. “The little ones, they’re my favorites. I really enjoy the little ones.”
Having a main office at the high school and places to work with students in the rest of the schools has helped YHS make an impact with students.
“The benefits of working in the school are just unimaginable,” Stull said. “When we started, I had no idea the impact that it was going to have working here in the schools, because you get the teachers’ input. You get to see the kids, you get to observe them mingling and interacting with their peers. We do occasionally do classroom observations and things like that and try to work as closely as possible.
Another benefit of working at the schools is there is someone available if a crisis rises – for a client or another student.
If there is a student in need, the therapist will talk to the student and then discuss the issue further with the parent or guardian and administration at the school.
“One particular day, I ended up with two crises of two very similar situations on the same day at the same school, both non-clients,” Lester said. “One of them became our client and the other one opted to look at their options.”
Working as a group and using the team care approach with their clients, YHS has years of experience to provide its clients.
“There are very few mental health agencies that have the years of experience and the multitude of tasks that we have performed over the years,” Dale said. “Bar none. I’d put our credentials and our experience up against any private outfit or whatever way you want to go and I mean that.”
“I totally agree with that, and I’ve worked in a lot of places in a lot of states over the years and I have to say that I really have been totally impressed with Youth Health Services,” Lester added.
The newest addition to the team, Family Service Specialist Kendra Taylor, is fitting in well and excited to be a part of the team.
“I have my bachelor’s in psychology, so I knew I wanted to get in the mental health field somehow and over the years, I’ve kind of worked in and out of the schools doing different things,” Taylor said. “I’ve just enjoyed working with kids, and I knew I wanted to be in the school, stay in the school. When I saw this job opportunity, I jumped right on it and knew this was kind of the perfect fit.
“In the schools, working with all age groups and in mental health, it was everything I was looking for since I graduated.”
Even though school is not a year-round thing, Youth Health Services are, so in the summer, they offer day camps and group trips to continue to work with their clients.
Last year, they collaborated with Shayna Meadows Therapy and Wellness, which provided insight for the clients as well as the therapists.
“We saw some amazing things happen to some of our kids that honestly, I wasn’t sure what would work with them,” Lester said.
The camps are made possible with the help of community members and organizations, including the Pocahontas County Commission, Snowshoe Foundation, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and more.
The services through YHS are not free to the clients, but Stull doesn’t want that to deter parents because insurance will cover the services they provide.
“We bill all the major insurances,” she said. “Whatever insurance they have, we bill. We have a sliding scale fee that they can apply for. If that doesn’t work out and they absolutely can’t get coverage, then the expanded school mental health has a limited amount of slots that we can provide services through.”
The services offered through YHS include individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, supportive services, targeted case management, psychiatric evaluations and medication management and psychological evaluations.
For more information, visit www.youth-health.org or call the Elkins office at 304-636-9450 or the Pocahontas County home office at 304-799-7196.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org