Kids’ mental health center moves from downtown SLC to West Valley City

The Children’s Center Utah studied its demographics and determined its new location needed to be on the west side of the valley

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Children's Center Utah resumes operations in their new location in West Valley City on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

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

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

An official ribbon-cutting was scheduled for Monday, though the center has been operating there for a couple of months.

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

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carla Frein, Marketing and Communications Manager for at The Children's Center Utah gives a tour of the new location in West Valley City that provides mental health for early childhood on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

“Sometimes coming downtown is a barrier for people,” said Rebecca Dutson, president and CEO of the Children’s Center. “There are people who don’t want to travel downtown, getting into the very core of it.”

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

The Oquirrh School building won’t be abandoned. This summer, the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts moved in, turning the place into performance spaces, dance studios and tech shops.

Who is The Children’s Center for?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Joni Clark, Director of Development for The Children's Center Utah, gives a tour of the center’s new location in West Valley City on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, as she points out a recently placed art piece once housed in their original location dating back to1978.

Founded in 1962, The Children’s Center Utah has been an important mental health resource for families with infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

The center is staffed by psychologists and a psychiatrist, and offers outpatient therapy, group therapy for caregivers, speech-language pathologists, and intensive group therapy for young children who have difficulties in other group settings.

Sonja Blackham, an alumni parent, described how her son, Ezra, was diagnosed with anxiety. Through one-on-one and family therapy sessions, she said, Ezra learned coping mechanisms to self-regulate his emotions, and his family learned how to navigate the “chaos.”

“Nobody knew how to help Ezra, my son, how to deal with his big emotions and his anxiety, until we started going to the Children’s Center,” Blackham said.

Today, she said, Ezra still suffers from anxiety, but the struggle is not as debilitating. Where he once missed out on group sports, he now is an active participant, she said.

“He now plays soccer, and loves his team, and still gets nervous before he goes to a new team or before he tries something new,” Blackham said. “But he’s able to understand, with the help that the Children’s Center offered him, that there are coping skills that he can use to get through those emotions.”

What the new location offers

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The family store is gradually stocked at The Children's Center Utah, recently moved into the former Granger Medical Clinic in West Valley City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

The center’s new layout is more comfortable, Dutson said, and there is more parking space — which she said should be more welcoming to people needing the center’s services. Designers took into account such elements as exposure to light and nature, different textures, and the physical safety of the facility to foster a therapeutic environment.

The new location also allows the possibility 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 kids with their emotional and behavioral challenges, is in high demand and likely will stay that way for years, Mitchell said.

“Every year we cycle up, and we build up a high volume of referrals coming in,” Mitchell said. “A lot of childcare centers, a lot of people that are doing any kind of group care for kids, they’re all reporting the same thing.”

On the main floor, the center’s licensed clinicians, psychologists and its psychiatrist have offices near each other. Downstairs, the preschool program’s classrooms have tiny tables and chairs, play spaces and observation windows.

Rooms are set aside for a family store — where clients can “shop” essential items for free, meditation, lactation and one-on-one meetings with therapists. In the lobby, little games for families decorate the walls.

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

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

“One of our primary goals, as we think about how to address the mental health concerns of children and families throughout Utah, is to share the expertise that our team holds in this very specialized area,” Dutson said. “And train providers of all backgrounds … who may not have as much experience in mental health training for very young children.”

With the new location opening in West Valley City, Dutson said The Children’s Center Utah is also looking toward expansion in the next 10 years — with a new location expected to open in Utah County in 2026.

“There’s just such a great need,” Dutson said. “I think the pandemic highlighted that, and made people more aware of mental health, and especially mental health in children.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.