Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Belgium, as with many European countries, is experiencing a transformative shift in population demographics. An increase in ethical heterogeneity is driving a trend of community sub-division into smaller and smaller social groupings. The result is a growing fracturing of social, cultural and familial ties, a fracturing which is adversely affecting the well-being and mental stability of younger generations.
In Flanders specifically, the number of young people who are ‘psychologically distressed’ has grown by 36 percent over the last 12 years. With rapid changes in society – divorce and remarriage are more frequent and adults have less time to focus on youth – children cannot change as quickly and they are left feeling lost and depressed. If a child’s mental distress is not dealt with right away, it can lead to more systemic problems such as substance abuse, violence, severe depression and crime in the longer term.
Flander’s public counseling services have not increased capacity at the same pace as rising demand. This has been an impossible task without a significant influx in government spending. As a result, 4,000 youth are on waiting lists where they remain an average of five months. Youth with only moderate problems are removed or pushed further down the list, making the number of youth in need of psychological support far greater than 4,000.
There is no public counseling offer in Belgium that focuses on youth with 'moderate' problems. While private services are available, they are expensive and difficult to access without an adult taking charge. At the same time, however, many public and private therapists recognize the problem of accessibility and are eager to make a contribution; but they lack the structure to do so. By designing a first-responder, primary system of care, Ingrid is providing the missing link in Belgium’s youth mental health services, while leveraging a latent but highly qualified professional workforce.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In an increasingly complex and stressful world, young people need accessible and anonymous counseling services to resolve challenges in their lives. Ingrid is responding to this growing mental health need by providing first-responder, primary counseling services. Depending on the issues a young person is facing (e.g. bullying, poor family relationships, negative self- image, anger management, etc.), Ingrid offers a lab of mental health solutions. The main service includes an average of ten to twelve sessions of therapy with a trained professional; but also other types of interventions such as art and movement therapy, group therapy, and workshops to better help young people know their rights. Ingrid ensures that each intervention is solutions-focused, helping youth to deal with their emotions while they wait to access state-run services for the longer term. Ingrid is thus offering an important missing link in Belgium’s health care delivery chain by alleviating pressure on youth welfare institutions that are overburdened and unable to serve a growing population of mentally distressed young people.
Ingrid places professional volunteers at the forefront of her workforce. These highly educated and motivated therapists and psychologists find a new sense of purpose and belonging as volunteer counselors, while at the same time sharpening their professional credentials and building closer ties to communities and the real problems at hand. Furthermore, independence from state-run institutions allows this citizen-based workforce to make faster judgment calls and treat distressed youth more efficiently amidst a welfare system that is increasingly pressurized by demand.
Moreover, by allowing various methodologies to co-exist in her counseling center, Ingrid's model allows for a cross-pollination of methodologies and the sparking of new ideas, lending to her lab of solutions. This 21st century counseling model invites a spectrum of ages, professional and educational backgrounds as well as creative approaches to counseling; a diversity that is necessary to treat an increasingly ethnically heterogeneous population.
Since the opening of her center in 2010, Ingrid’s counseling model has served more than 2,000 youth and engaged 90 volunteers, of which more than 60 are professional therapists, from across Belgium’s Antwerp region. Having demonstrated the model’s credibility and notoriety in Antwerp, Ingrid is in the process of replicating her model across Belgium and to the Netherlands, before taking it to other parts of Europe. Indeed, the engagement contracts are already signed by two other TEJO locations in Flanders, Ronse and Gent and another one is about to do so in the city of Mechelen.