Youth Mental Wellness Needs Identified, New Services for Lancaster County

On November 8, we released our Youth Mental Wellness Needs Assessment. Thank you to our gracious hosts at the S. Dale High Foundation Center. We discussed the study results and shared details about next steps. This opportunity sparked conversation within the community of how to remedy the bullying and difficult situations the youth of Lancaster County are facing. 

We welcomed seven local leaders who shared how they see the Youth Mental Wellness Needs results within their own line of work: 

  • Amanda Katchur, PsyDTouchstone Foundation Board Member, Program Coordinator, School-Based Therapy, Community Services Group 
  • Bill Zee, JDTouchstone Foundation Board Member, Appel Yost & Zee Partner, Chair of Education Law Group 
  • Susan Billy – IU13, Behavioral Health and School Safety Coordinator
  • Kim McDevitt – Mental Health America of Lancaster County, Executive Director
  • Foley – Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition, Executive Director
  • Amy Maverick, Med, LPC – School District of Lancaster, Coordinator of Behavioral Health Services
  • Christine Pfau-Laney, JD – Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency, Lead Assistant County Solicitor

Thank you to all who attended and spoke out at this event; your voices were heard, and we hope that you gleaned information that will help you in your own line of work. View event slides here. View event photos here 

Save the date: we will be having an informational session on January 24 to discuss a Request for Applications focused on: youth mentorship, mental wellness, and trauma-informed care. 

We are thankful for the continuous support of our community and are excited to see how you will implement our findings into your work. Thank you again to all of those who made the Youth Mental Wellness Needs Assessment possible! 

Needs in Youth Mental Wellness

Touchstone Foundation, formerly known as Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation (LOHF) completed a Lancaster County Children’s Behavioral & Mental Health Needs Assessment published in January of 2015. Since then, youth and children in Lancaster County have been met with the COVID-19 pandemic which has been linked to increased diagnoses of depression and anxiety. In addition, social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have highlighted disparities based on race and gender. 

“At the Touchstone Foundation, we thought it was paramount to reevaluate the needs of youth and children in Lancaster County to better serve our community in the most effective way. After seven years we thought that it was more than necessary to pause our children’s behavioral health grants program in July 2022 to reassess the mental health landscape in Lancaster County” said Executive Director, Anna Kennedy. 

The intent of this pause was to listen and learn from youth, and to check in with parents and caregivers. This was done through two aspects: a listening tour with youth ages 14-26 who live in Lancaster County; and an online survey of parents and caregivers of Lancaster County students, ages 5-26.  

The study was designed to serve as an introduction to the trends and common themes emerging. It is important to recognize that the experiences and perspectives captured in this report are not exhaustive, and additional considerations will continue to emerge.  

In July 2022, our Board of Directors made the difficult decision to pause our grants program because we looked at all these reasons, plus the 2021 PA Youth Survey data which was released in April 2022 and wanted to update our 2015 needs assessment. We added a youth listening tour to hear from young people in our community.  

 Our community lost two teens to suicide in September and October. Both teens identified as LGBTQ+ and struggled with depression. We are concerned that our teens are really struggling in schools, both in high schools and in colleges and universities. We listened to some of the bullying, harassment, and discrimination our young people face in schools.

2023 Study Results

Touchstone Foundation repeated our parent/caregiver survey about youth mental health in 2022-2023, to compare and understand changes in youth mental health from parent/ caregiver perspective in the seven years between 2014-2015 and 2022-2023.

We observed the following trends from parents and caregivers of children and youth: 

  1. Accessibility to, and quality of, health care and/ or mental health services has improved while the perceived wellbeing of young people by their parents has declined.
  2. The largest increases over time in health problems experienced by children were behavior or conduct problems, hearing problems, and autism spectrum disorders. All health problems in this category experienced an increase.
  3. While parents’ responses indicate that they generally trust their neighbors and neighborhood, this trust has declined since 2015.
  4. Parents report seeking health-related information from their child’s healthcare provider, searching online, asking another family member, and asking on social media.
  5. Parents report their children being purposefully excluded, lied about, hit, or teased by other children about once a month.

In the Youth Listening Tour, Touchstone Foundation held six focus groups with 100 youth ages 14-26, from August 2022- March 2023. One major theme that emerged from these conversations was the need for an option in mental health care that does not include clinical therapy or counseling, but rather the consistent presence of a safe and trusted adult mentor who shares a similar interest or can do an activity with the young person regularly. 

Participants suggested solutions such as providing more options for activities during therapy sessions and allowing young people to access services without parental involvement. The participants in the Youth Listening Tour expressed a desire for a safe and trusted adult mentor as an alternative to clinical therapy or formal counseling. Several trends were identified relating to accessing mental health services.

These trends include: 

  • Pre-existing supports and coping mechanisms 
  • Barriers regarding access to therapeutic services 
  • Interpersonal barriers with peers and parents 
  • Barriers within the therapeutic environment

Here Are Some Of The Messages We Heard From Our Young People

“Motivation is when you think and then your heart decides” 

“I want to be listened to, not changed” 

“Being able to build a relationship with [a therapist] and get a sense of comfort to be able to talk to them is hard” 

“I want to establish a relationship with people” 

“If they [therapists] did something interesting instead of talking it would be motivating” 

“I want to be listened to and have people who want to help” 

“How do you open up to a stranger?” 

“If your family doesn’t support you, then you won’t feel supported anywhere” 

“People need to stop being homophobic” 

“Substitutes especially can choose not to respect gender identity/ pronouns and there are no repercussions” 

“The best session I had was when he talked about his life and related to me with his experiences; I felt good about myself” 

“Sit back, listen, treat me as a human, think of it as a human and not a therapist, drop the pen and pencil and just listen” 

“I want them to say, “I feel that way too sometimes” and not have it be a one-way street” 

“If the administration doesn’t lead from the top, nothing will happen. If the administration and teachers don’t respect LGBTQ rights, then students won’t either” 

“It’s exhausting to sit and lay out your entire week with a therapist for an entire appointment” 

“Location, wealth, and families influence direct access to mental health.” 

“I want a mentor- someone to teach me and who I can just talk to. We could get Starbucks and talk about some issues for fifteen minutes then be able to leave.” 

“Kids need to be able to advocate for and get help for themselves without their parents if they have unhealthy relationships” 

Next Steps - Youth Mentorship

Touchstone Foundation will soon release a Request for Applications focused on supporting Youth Mentorship. Analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from the Parent Survey and Youth Listening Tour focus group sessions revealed a need for positive, trusted adult role models for youth in Lancaster County.  

Touchstone Foundation will issue a Request for Applications for our new Youth Mentorship Partnership Program. Our goal is to support the development and training of Community Benefit Organizations who train adult mentors in partnership with us. These mentors will serve as the trusted, caring, safe, consistent presence that youth are requesting. Mentors will have all current background checks and child abuse clearances. They will receive training on mentorship, Youth Mental Health First Aid and understanding adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and complex trauma.  

Trained adults serving as youth mentors in our community can further assist in providing the long-term relationships that teens and young adults seek. Partnering youth with mentors is an accessible way to set youth up for success, regardless of whether or not their socioeconomic status allows them to afford therapy. We consistently heard the request from participants in our Youth Listening Tour for someone the teen or young person could go to, talk with, share activities like video games, hiking, fishing, questions about school, navigating friendships, help with applying for jobs, and more.  

Our focus at Touchstone Foundation is improving youth mental wellness in Lancaster County- birth through age 25. Three areas – 1) workforce investment in the talent pipeline through scholarships and license support for recent graduates 2) increasing access by removing financial barriers for therapy/counseling, parent support, and high school student summits, and 3) advocacy, policy change.