ABINGDON, Va. — Family and child behavioral development programs have now become a "one-stop shop" thanks to Highlands Community Services’ Children’s Campus.
Located about a mile-and-a-half from the Harry L. Coomes Recreation Center and E.B. Stanley Middle School, the Children’s Campus seeks to provide a safe and healthy learning place for people of all ages and walks of life, according to Department Director Shawn Miller. The 32,000-square-foot facility is the latest effort by HCS to improve the quality of life for those with emotional, behavioral or mental health issues.
The wraparound services offered on the campus include multiple programs for children, young adults and families, and are intended to help people access the most services possible in one place.
"You can make one trip here and we can help you find what you may need here," Miller said.
The facility houses multiple programs that used to be spread all over the county, according to Miller. In addition to the standard counseling and assistance offices, the Children’s Campus is headquarters for a number of parental assistance programs, including multiple programs geared toward helping men be better fathers and the Strengthening Families program. This program offers a 14-week class during which families sit down for a meal and have counselors coach them on how to have a beneficial family dinner.
This service is more crucial than many people realize, according to Lisa Topshee, director of prevention and education.
Many families these days just don’t eat dinner together. They don’t sit down and have conversations and talk to each other, Topshee said.
That’s where Strengthening Families comes in. The classes are held in various locations to provide for as many people as possible and keep people in their comfort zones.
"It’s all family-based setting … you know the kids, you know the parents, but also you know the community," she said.
Other programs are Family Services, Therapeutic Day Treatment, which is geared toward helping students cope with the day-to-day issues that may arise in school, the Crisis Center and the Interchange.
One of the important parts of the family services department is the Embrace program. If Child Protective Services removes a child in the middle of the night for some reason, they can be taken to someone in the Embrace program to keep the child safe until a more permanent home can be found, according to Miller. He said Highlands Community Services has a list of trained, safe families who house children in need.
The Interchange is one of the most prominent parts of the new facility. The series of classrooms and safe rooms are used to provide a protective educational environment, according to Miller.
The Interchange is often used as a way to help students, from elementary school to high school, deal with emotional, behavioral or mental health issues by taking them out of the public school setting for a short time. Miller said this service is provided through a partnership with local schools to provide a safer learning environment for students who may pose a danger to themselves or others.
The classrooms are separated by age group, with elementary and middle school students in one area, and high schoolers in another. Each classroom area has two open rooms meant to help students calm down if they are in crisis. These areas consist of one room with padding on the walls for those who are violent, and one that is painted with dry-erase paint so nonviolent students can write or draw on the walls to calm down. Licensed teachers and trained counselors work with students to help them overcome behavioral issues.
"They [students] can succeed in here as far as their behavior will let them go," Miller said.
Typically, students spend up to a year in the Interchange before going back to public school. If students are still having problems, they can return to Interchange, or be sent to another facility.
The Crisis Center is home to HCS’s 24-hour emergency services, Adult Crisis and Stabilization Program and the Children and Youth Crisis Stabilization Program. The youth program is also referred to as the Safety Zone, according to Department Director of Crisis Services Kandace Miller Phillips.
Phillips said she has seen an upsurge in young children in the Safety Zone in recent years. This area is where children who are having severe emotional and behavioral issues are taken for help. Its primary function is "to keep kids in the community and out of the hospitals," said Phillips.
She said she often sees children who are victims of abuse or neglect in the Safety Zone.
The Crisis Center helps people of all ages who are having an "extreme behavioral or emotional crisis," said Phillips. She added that it saves the community money because those people are not transported to a facility farther away.
Creative Communications and Events Manager Alexandra Veatch said the new, all-inclusive facility is a headquarters for many of HCS’s most popular and helpful programs. Workers just began working there on Feb. 28, and there has already been a great improvement of interdepartmental communication, according to Miller.
The Children’s Campus is a major breakthrough for HCS and for the region, she said. In addition to being a place where children can go for multiple types of assistance, the facility allows entire families to address the issues in one safe location.
"Mental health is sometimes considered with blinders on in the community… [people] don’t want to talk about that, don’t want to look at it, but it exists and it’s here. We want to help with that. We want to meet them where they’re at," he said.
The facility is fully functional and welcomes anyone in need of the services offered. A grand opening is planned for May 13. It will feature an open house so the public can tour the facility.