In the wake of the pandemic, a new program is showing promise in the battle against rising rates of depression and suicide among schoolkids.
“We’re all so connected, but it doesn’t make us less lonely. It makes kids more so because it silos them even more.”
As regional president, Margaret Sabin led the creation of the new Children’s Hospital of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Now, as a full-time past president, she has transitioned into a new role focusing on pediatric and adolescent behavioral health, collaborating with community partners to build a model system in Colorado Springs.
“We were seeing a lot of people stepping up, but they were unsure exactly what to do. That’s where Children’s Hospital comes in; if anyone should begin to lay out a path, not by themselves, but with the whole community holding hands, it probably is a children’s hospital. Two years ago, we partnered with schools to lay the groundwork for an evidence-based intervention with sixth-graders. We purposely evaluated it because no one had studied trying to get ahead of this, at least among sixth-graders, by building their resilience. We know that building resilience can decrease and allow a child to deal with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. If a child can deal with those feelings and behaviors that reflect negatively on their self-esteem, they have stronger tools for dealing with challenges that hit their life. I mean, it is common sense, but what do we do to build that?”
Sabin’s team adopted a creative approach; it trained trusted adults to work with children in schools, using evidence-based tools, such as the Child Youth Resilience Measure. “We contacted Harvard University with this idea, and they said, ‘Well, we’ve never seen anyone put into practice our resilience framework, particularly in sixth grade.’”
Harvard says that a significant factor for a developing child is the trusted adult figure. “It can be a teacher or a parent, but another trusted adult figure augments the ability of parents and teachers to parent and teach. Our coaches are not telling the child get better grades and clean your room. They’re telling the child, ‘You are stronger than you think; let’s help build your skills.’”
Sabin explains that coaches meet with their kids in the school setting: “It could be a four- to six-week intervention with five to six sessions. We work in partnership with the schools. The whole approach is motivational: to help a child find their own strength, find their own tool kit, look within. It’s not externally dictated, and it’s not judgmental. It’s motivational.
“Resilience is about bouncing back from adversity. We’re all going to encounter tough things in life; do we bounce back and handle them well? In terms of what the classroom looks like, it means incorporating language into their conversation about peer-based support structures, checking in with each other, being able to acknowledge a friend or a classmate being a little down and having the comfort level to reach out. It inspires a sense of community among children and a sense of reaching out and building friendships and relationships in a positive and meaningful way. That, then, can have a ripple effect on other students.”
Sabin says the efficacy of Children’s unique approach has been peer-reviewed in three national journals. “If our intervention wasn’t making a difference, we wanted to stop and try something different. But our evidence-based research tells us that it is making a difference. We’re hearing it from our school partners as well.”
Partnership with the community is strong; Sabin is proud that the program is fully funded with local dollars. Children’s has partnered with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to provide a continuing supply of trained coaches. Currently, 12 schools in six local districts are participating in the Healthy Kids resilience coaching program. Sabin emphasizes the importance of this broad community involvement as the only solution: “We’ve got to come together and lock hands because we can’t out hire ourselves out of the dilemma we’re in.”