Pat Beckett and Peg Busick can’t help themselves from preemptively wiping away tears when talking about the Children’s Center.
The duo are part of the founding group of the Children’s Center in Vancouver, which started 30 years ago with a progressive initiative at the time: bringing outpatient mental health services to kids. Now, three decades later, when Beckett, the center’s executive director, and Busick, a board member, speak of the center, they feel like shepherding it has been a privilege.
“That’s the kind of feeling you get when you start something like this. It’s like your child. You’ve raised it up,” Busick said.
They can remember renting a small office on Saturday afternoons for $1 a year, and the subsequent moves to better locations, each larger than the last. They recall that their first contract was to serve 90 children in an outpatient mental health setting. Now the Children’s Center serves almost 2,000 clients a year, spread across 44 Clark County schools. The center serves ages 2 through 21 if still in school, as well as a small adult population.
“More and more schools are asking for our services,” Beckett said.
In spite of the growth, the Children’s Center sticks to its original goal: “changing and saving lives,” said Matthew Butte, deputy executive director, who will succeed Beckett as executive director Aug. 1.
Beckett said people are more open when it comes to discussing mental health than they were when the center began. But there’s more work to be done. She said the “issues kids are dealing with are much more complex,” and the advent of social media has been a driver of that complexity.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, death by suicide rose 33 percent between 1999 and 2017. The sharpest increase has been in adolescents and young adults, a demographic where suicide is the second leading cause of death, according to the Associated Press.
A Tel Aviv University study examined that specific increase and found there were 6,252 suicides of people between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2017, the most since 2000. The researchers determined social media and its use has caused some adolescents and young adults to feel lonely or encounter cyberbullying.
“I think kids are dealing with a lot of political, social, emotional, family trauma. Kids worry a lot about the state of our planet,” Beckett said. “It brings a lot of fears to them. A lot of issues around suicide. Kids not feeling connected. At least in my mind, social media plays a part in that. There’s a lot of bullying going on now.”
That’s why Butte wants to expand the Children’s Center’s reach, maybe bolstering staff and services in the Battle Ground area. The goal is to create more mental health care accessibility for children and their families.
“We know there is a tremendous need for our services and we’ve grown a lot over the last 30 years,” Butte said. “But of those one in five kids who need mental health treatment, there’s a significant portion who aren’t getting the help, or they’re waiting, or they’re waiting on average two years before they seek treatment. How can we respond to that need?”
You can help
The Children’s Center’s 30th anniversary fundraiser Sunday night is sold out, but if you’re interested in donating, using its services or learning more, visit www.thechildrenscenter.org or call 360-699-2244.