From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Idaho is doing exciting things to help its children overcome serious challenges and become more resilient

May 12, 2023
DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

I’d like to share a report I read recently about exciting work being done in the Division of Behavioral Health to help Idaho youth overcome serious challenges and become stronger emotionally and mentally.

The work involved a learning collaborative approach, which I was thrilled to see is being used, and had amazing insights and results. The approach was analyzed to see if helping youths build strengths also reduces their needs.

The analysis was the first step in a larger statewide learning process called the Idaho Learning Collaborative, which engages practitioners as partners in learning and adjusting treatment plans to improve outcomes for youth and families. The overall goal of the collaborative is to help Idaho youth develop strengths and reduce their needs, so they are more resilient.

The exciting news is that this approach worked. It helped to gather evidence that’s helping youths build strengths such as coping skills, interpersonal skills, resilience, and family, and helps them live healthier lives overall. This is especially true if their increased strengths help reduce their needs, which include anger control, anxiety, emotional and/or physical regulation, and others.

A success story in the report is reprinted below, with permission from the report’s authors.

Emily (name changed) loves animals of all kinds, especially dogs. She struggled to complete homework and household chores and engaged in oppositional behaviors. Emily also has some social deficits, i.e. difficulty understanding social cues and boundaries. This vulnerability was manipulated by peers, resulting in instances of bullying and victimization.

Focused efforts were made by the Child and Family Team to leverage this interest toward building strengths in areas of Education, Family, and Coping/Savoring. To earn playtime with a neighbor’s puppies, Emily was willing to work toward compliance with expectations of daily living (personal hygiene, chores, etc.) and completion of school assignments to teacher’s expectations.

This resulted in improved grades and decreased stress in the family, which in turn encouraged caregivers to consider allowing Emily to adopt a pet of her own. Adoption of a puppy aided the child in accepting/fulfilling further responsibilities at home (caring for the dog), and she improved her Coping and Savoring skills by turning to it for comfort when needed for her anxiety and other distressing emotions. Additionally, her emotional regulation began to improve when she experienced the dog avoiding her when she raged but would approach her when it sensed she was struggling with anxiety. Finally, engaging in dog-training activities began to result in Emily’s increased understanding of what boundaries are, how they work, and why they are necessary/helpful.

I really appreciated reading Emily’s story. Given the incredible impact of this single example, the possibilities of future work like this is very exciting. 

I hope you have a safe and healthy weekend.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at 

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