Children’s Center Utah’s new location brings more mental health care options to the West Side

West Valley City • Children’s Center Utah, which has provided mental health care for children and their families for 60 years, is moving west — to where many of its patients live.

The center, which has been located in the former Oquirrh School near downtown Salt Lake City for 14 years, has moved to a new location in West Valley City — 3725 W. 4100 South, in the Granger Medical Clinic building.

The official ribbon cutting was scheduled for Monday, even though the center has been operating there for several months.

The center’s new space — with baby blue ceilings and sun-shaped light fixtures — is located along Bangerter Highway, a key corridor for West Valley City residents. When officials examined the center’s demographics, they discovered that many of its clients live on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, so the new center should be located there.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carla Frein, marketing and communications manager for Children’s Center Utah, gives a tour of the new West Valley City location that provides early childhood mental health services on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

“Sometimes it’s a barrier for people to get downtown,” said Rebecca Dutson, president and CEO of the Children’s Center. “There are people who don’t want to drive downtown to get to the heart of the action.”

The West Valley City space has slightly less floor space than the old Oquirrh School location, Dutson said, but is designed to be more functional and more accessible to families.

The Oquirrh School building will not be abandoned. This summer, the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts moved in and transformed the space into performance spaces, dance studios and technology shops.

Who is the children’s center suitable for?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Children’s Center Utah development director Joni Clark tours the center’s new location in West Valley City on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, pointing out a recently placed piece of art once in its original location from 1978.

Founded in 1962, Children’s Center Utah is a critical mental health resource for families with infants, toddlers and preschool children.

The center is staffed by psychologists and psychiatrists and offers outpatient therapy, group therapy for caregivers, speech therapists, and intensive group therapy for young children who have difficulty in other group settings.

Sonja Blackham, a former mother, described how her son Ezra was diagnosed with anxiety. Through individual and family therapy sessions, she said, Ezra learned coping mechanisms to self-regulate his emotions and his family learned to deal with the “chaos.”

“No one knew how to help Ezra, my son, and deal with his big feelings and fears until we started going to the children’s center,” Blackham said.

Today, she said, Ezra still suffers from anxiety, but the fight isn’t as debilitating. Where he once missed group sports, he is now an active participant, she said.

“He plays football now and loves his team and still gets nervous before moving to a new team or trying something new,” Blackham said. “But with the help the children’s center has offered him, he is able to understand that there are coping skills he can use to overcome these emotions.”

What the new location offers

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The family store is gradually being filled at Children’s Center Utah, which recently moved to the former Granger Medical Clinic in West Valley City on Tuesday, September 19, 2023.

The center’s new floor plan is more comfortable, Dutson said, and there is more parking – which she said should be more welcoming to people who need the center’s services. The designers considered elements such as exposure to light and nature, different textures and the physical security of the facility to create a therapeutic environment.

The new location also provides an opportunity to expand the center’s therapeutic preschool program, said Jennifer Mitchell, the center’s vice president of clinical strategy and innovation. The intensive preschool program, which helps children with emotional and behavioral challenges, is in high demand and likely will remain so for years to come, Mitchell said.

“Every year we improve and see a high number of referrals coming in,” Mitchell said. “A lot of daycare centers, a lot of people who do some kind of group care for kids all report the same thing.”

On the ground floor, the center’s licensed clinicians, psychologists and psychiatrists have their offices close to each other. Downstairs, the preschool program’s classrooms are outfitted with tiny tables and chairs, playgrounds and observation windows.

Rooms are reserved a family store – where customers can “shop” for essential items for free, Meditation, breastfeeding and one-on-one sessions with therapists. In the lobby, small games for families decorate the walls.

The move also allowed the center to build a meeting room and training facility to bring together local and national mental health providers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Children’s Center Utah, which recently moved into a building that housed Granger Medical Clinic in West Valley City, is pictured Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

“One of our main goals as we think about how to address the mental health issues facing children and families across Utah is to share our team’s expertise in this very specific area,” Dutson said. “And train providers from diverse backgrounds … who may not have as much experience in mental health training for very young children.”

With the opening of a new location in West Valley City, Dutson said Children’s Center Utah is also looking to expand over the next 10 years – with a new location opening in Utah County in 2026.

“There’s just a great need,” Dutson said. “I think the pandemic has highlighted that and increased people’s awareness of mental health, particularly children’s mental health.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Your donation, in addition to our RFA grant, will help ensure she continues to write stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking Here.

Justin Scaccy

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