Integrated Environments for Healing

Date Posted: 04.08.2016

By Elizabeth Hearn

The Behavioral Care Center for Children, Youth and Families integrates and expands services for vulnerable youth and families by bringing together programs provided by Navos and its legacy organizations—Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center and Seattle Children’s Home—on the shores of Lake Burien. The new campus features a welcoming, camp-like atmosphere designed to reduce stigma and offer a unique array of programs that collectively address the continuum of complex needs of young children, school-aged youth, young adults and families in South King County. This is a safe, therapeutic environment where young children who have suffered abuse, neglect and other significant traumas, and youth with significant mental and emotional illness receive the treatment and support they need to heal.

Navos has an overarching vision to create ‘a healthy community in which people thrive while managing symptoms of mental illness and addictions.’ Navos and Mithun joined forces to achieve that vision in the design of a new healthcare campus on a pastoral Lake Burien site.

Key Campus Design Strategies  

  • Bringing together services that were previously scattered across different locations into one campus and creating a new synergy of services and clients.
  • Interweaving landscape, buildings and interiors to create children-focused environments that support a constant connection to and immersion in nature. The variety of pathways and destinations on site range from hillside to lakeside, and define diverse places for counseling, play, and gathering. Outdoor activities take place within four layers of native plant communities that form a progression on the site from upland forest to a wetland lakeside edge. Exterior plant materials also inform interior colors, textures, signage and key design features – creating a cohesive environment from inside to out.
  • A multi–age campus that can service very young children recovering from trauma as well as 25-year-olds who are actively transitioning out of foster care. The co-location of different age groups highlights the continuity of care and provides an understandable pathway for younger children in the healing process.
  • Designing with the ‘Engagement Model of Care’ created a welcoming and warm environment, in contrast to traditional models of restraint and seclusion that have been used in the mental health community. Residences for at-risk children are designed with sunlit rooms, external landscape views, and soft and inviting furniture and surfaces. This was done with acute attention to meeting safety protocols for the children and staff, while retaining a residential feel.
  • Sustainable design is integrated throughout the campus from supporting wetland biodiversity at stream banks to energy efficient systems at all buildings. The Outpatient Building is on target for LEED Silver certification and the housing at Independence Bridge is designed in accordance with the Evergreen Sustainable Design Standards.

Facilities and Features of the Redeveloped Campus

  • Six new Youth Residential Cottages which provide a home-like setting for 30 children and teens with serious mental and emotional issues who are being served through Navos’ residential programs. The design features day-lit corridors, a porch connecting to the lake and a vegetated entry porch, in dramatic contrast to the clinical feel of many similar facilities. Many children arrive late at night or directly from traumatic situations, so the arrival sequence beginning with a warm wood enclosed porch and general residential feeling supports a welcoming transition.
  • The new Outpatient Building contains programs including individual and family therapy, drug and alcohol assessment and treatment, crisis intervention, support groups and behavioral support for youth with developmental disabilities, as well as a primary care clinic to ensure clients receive preventative and coordinated medical care. Lakeside views enhance the therapeutic setting, and a connected covered basketball and play court provides a unique alternative counseling setting.
  • Independence Bridge is a studio apartment housing complex for 24 young adults (aged 18-25) transitioning out of foster care who could benefit from a safe and respectful community of peers as they establish a strong foundation for their independent adult lives. Every year in Washington, approximately 35% of youth aging out of foster care end up on the street during the first year. Independence Bridge provides critical support during this transition through individualized support services and daylight-filled spaces for gathering and growth including a library, common laundry rooms, a two-story communal kitchen and living area.
  • Additional new campus elements include facilities for individual, group or family counseling; studios for art, dance and music; a classroom wing; administrative space and outdoor recreation area.
  • New landscape elements on the 7.5 acre site include enhanced lakeside and stream vegetated areas, native plant stream restoration and newly buffered edges with the surrounding community. The landscape design reflects the native ecology of the site – responding to and enhancing existing site plant communities with a design that promotes biodiversity and supports fragile wildlife species. Work on site included extensive invasive species removal, wetland and stream restoration and installation of habitat features for sensitive native wildlife. New buildings are interspersed with four native plant communities to create a layered, permeable buffer from lakeside to upland edge of the campus. The landscape design takes cues from the native ecology, a transect from shaded upland forest communities down to the open and low-laying wetland edge. The site’s arrival sequence reflects the character of these distinct landscapes, transitioning from buffered enclosure to expansive lakeside and creating a campus sanctuary.
  • The enhanced outlet stream flowing from Lake Burien curves through the campus before it eventually reaches the Puget Sound. The on-site restoration mimics a natural stream corridor, slowing and filtering the water with native plants and habitat features. Small seating areas located adjacent to the stream bank, nestled among ferns and boulders, offer safe places to interact with nature and engage children in the landscape. In addition to these areas of refuge, the design integrates a variety of gardens and gathering areas across the campus, supporting a range of programs from active to passive, social to individual, and large to small that can provide respite or engagement for clients and staff.

Pioneering Model for Care – How Navos Works

This campus enables Navos to provide an expanded array of services to children and youth across the spectrum of mild, moderate and serious emotional disturbances. It is designed to support the use of the Engagement Model of Care, which is a philosophy on how to develop and maintain an environment for assessing and treating people with mental illness and addictions that takes into account client and staff experiences and perspectives, and holds safety of all as the ultimate goal, along with other best practices of Trauma Informed Care. Treatment is directed by a thorough understanding of the profound neurological, biological, psychological and social effects of trauma and violence on the individual. The approach acknowledges the high prevalence of traumatic experiences in persons who receive services and in those who provide them. Armed with this knowledge, environments are created and sustained that are healing for all who enter, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

The Engagement Model of Care is most visible in the design of the Residential Youth Cottages, where the sequence of arrival and daily activities like sleeping, eating and relaxing are carefully designed to be welcoming, and open — but with very strategic opportunities for staff to quickly isolate or contain events. Even if areas are isolated, there are still opportunities for residents to look out and have distant vistas or views. The look and feel is in stark contrast to older facilities where seclusion and restrain, and restricted connections to the outdoors were more common.

Community Impact

Navos has a strong history serving people with mental illness in King County. Annually, they provide a full spectrum of services to more than 11,000 low-income children, youth and adults from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. With their partners, they are the public mental health provider for more than 40% of all youth served in the King County mental health system, and are one of the largest providers of mental health services in Washington State.

This new campus will finally enable Navos to fulfill their mission of integrated child and family services with a design that supports their vision of a ‘healthy community.’ The goal is to provide a model for others through the exemplary implementation of the Navos vision and its positive outcomes. By maximizing the five design strategies described above, our team has created an award-winning campus that will better serve the most vulnerable members of our community.