Empowering Communities: FAST-B Program Improves Behavioral Health Support for Families in Oak Harbor

Colleen McCarty, MPH, WCAAP Program Manager

WCAAP recently completed a pilot project to deliver the First Approach Skills Training-Behavior (FAST-B) curriculum to families at two elementary schools in Oak Harbor, thanks to a grant from the Department of Health’s Rural Health Office. Parents attended evening meetings once a week for six weeks at Olympic View Elementary, where they worked through the FAST-B curriculum in small groups led by Dr. Amy Garrett from Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island (PAWI), and behavioral health specialists from the Island County Health Department. Key to the project’s success was support from the school to provide childcare and dinner at each meeting to increase accessibility for families.

In planning for this project, Olympic View Elementary Principal Sara Lucero shared that families have expressed a desire for resources and tools to better support their children’s behavioral health needs, especially given the shortage of mental health supports in their region. The project team chose the FAST-B program for its accessible, evidence-based curriculum that provides brief interventions for youth and families with common mental health concerns. Dr. Garrett and three behavioral health specialists from the Island County Health Department volunteered to lead the parent trainings and were able to prepare for the sessions using the free resources on the Seattle Children’s FAST webpage. Families were given printed copies of the FAST-B workbook and focused on different strategies each week in small groups, including Special Time, Giving Good Instructions, Planned Ignoring, and Considering Consequences.

Parents, school staff, and FAST facilitators had overwhelmingly positive feedback to share about the small group sessions and their impact on families. In addition to learning behavioral interventions and strategies to support family connection, one of the greatest outcomes from the project was the sense of community it fostered among families who participated. Parents shared their appreciation for being able to hear from other families going through similar challenges, sharing what has worked or not worked, and knowing that they are not alone in what they are going through. One of the group facilitators shared, “They look forward to it because they have created community over these past weeks. And that is part of what is missing in their lives—a community that embraces them AND their kids at the same time.”

WCAAP Program Managers Colleen McCarty and Leslie Graham shared about the project at the Northwest Rural Health Conference in March and heard great interest from session participants in offering similar programs in other communities around the state. WCAAP is exploring future grant opportunities to spread this model, utilizing expertise from local public health and pediatric/primary care providers and partnership with schools to deliver FAST trainings to families.

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