New Kids Mental Health Washington program expanding throughout state


Shane Ersland


A new mental health program for children that is tailored to meet the unique needs of families in each geographical region in Washington is expanding throughout the state.

Program managers discussed Kids Mental Health Washington (KMHWA) during a webinar last week. Gina Cabiddu, program coordinator for KMHWA’s Pierce County program, said youth mental health incidents have gotten more complex, acute, and frequent during recent years. 

“And the ways it manifests have really changed over the years,” Cabiddu said. “KMHWA Pierce County’s backbone organization is Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. Even prior to COVID, we’re seeing a 400 percent increase in youth in our emergency department for behavioral health needs.”

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KMHWA Pierce County partnered with the Washington State Health Care Authority and the Department of Social & Health Services’ Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) to open KMHWA programs in three regions a year over three years, beginning in 2022. KMHWA’s youth regional behavioral health navigation teams focus on improving collaborative communication and service connection processes. They deploy multidisciplinary teams to improve access to services for youths experiencing mental health challenges. 

A Mary Bridge Foundation investment enabled KMHWA Pierce County to hire its first program manager, who is now KMHWA’s director, Cabiddu said. It was also able to hold its first youth summit, which focused on bringing partners (including community-based providers and representatives from the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families) together to determine how community organizations can help youths. 

“We can’t make funding happen overnight, but we can figure out how to coordinate and operate together to serve youth and their families,” Cabiddu said. “We had some community agreements and strategic initiatives that came out of it. That was a coalition of partners that came together to serve school-aged youth.”

In February 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation declaring a youth mental health crisis in Washington. This led to the allotment of state funding that has allowed for KMHWA’s expansion throughout the state, Cabiddu said. 

“Partners with the KMHWA teams across Washington are going to be providing technical assistance and support to stand up this model so communities can make it their own, [embracing] the culture of their communities, (their) populations, (and) the resources they have so it can be tailored to be effective to what kids and their families need locally.”

— Cabiddu 

KMHWA now has programs in the following regions:

  • The Greater Columbia Region includes Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Whitman, and Asotin counties 
  • The Southwest Region includes Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat counties
  • The Salish Region includes Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap counties
  • Pierce County 
  • The North Central Region includes Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, and Grant counties 
  • The Spokane Region includes Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Lincoln, and Adams counties  
  • The Thurston-Mason Region includes Thurston and Mason counties 
  • The Great Rivers Region includes Grays Harbor, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, and Lewis counties 

Programs in King County and the North Sound Region—which includes Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Snohomish, and Island counties—will open in July 2024.

Meghan Hopkins, youth behavioral health program manager at the DDA, said the department is building infrastructure in order to collaborate with partners for the KMHWA program. 

“We are really excited about the potential data sharing that is possible with our KMHWA teams who are seeing the barriers first-hand that youth have to accessing services in our state,” Hopkins said. “We’re excited to turn those barriers into opportunities to grow the possibility of serving youth.”  

Kari Goudge—utilization management/care management manager at Great Rivers Behavioral Health Administrative Services Organization and program manager for the youth navigator program there—said the Great Rivers KMHWA held its first official steering committee meeting in January. The program is not taking referrals for clients yet.

“We are in the process of building up our steering committee to try and make sure we have the representation needed to get this program up and running. We still have not decided yet (when) we will do our soft launch. But as we are trying to get more partnerships, I assume that’s going to happen very soon. We’re not ready to take referrals just yet. We’re on track to do so, hopefully soon. We’re only going to be able to achieve that through partnerships and support from our communities. We are in the process of building.”

— Goudge

The Southwest Region is seeing a high number of referrals every month, Cabiddu said. 

“And that indicates that the community has really bought into this process,” Cabiddu said. “They want to see the impact community collaboration has in getting kids and families connected to services. They’ve had a lot of success in working with referral communities, in getting kids connected to resources. They’ve had great partnerships with schools. Schools are huge resources for providing referrals.”

The Great Rivers KMHWA is also working to develop its website, Goudge said. 

“The biggest hurdle we have to go through is pulling together the resources that are actually available in our five-county region, which is a very interesting project in itself,” Goudge said. “But (it’s) very exciting because it will be absolutely amazing to have a one-stop shop where you can find information. We are also advertising as much as possible, bringing awareness to our communities that this program is coming.”

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