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After doing many roles, new director knows programs

Shelly Hahn said LCSNW focuses on clients' voices.


Shelly Hahn, who has been district director of Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) since January 2023, is no newcomer to LCSNW. She has worked there since 2004.

After earning a master's degree in counseling and psychology at the University of Oregon, Shelly, who previously earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Montana in 1999, moved to Spokane to start working as a therapist at LCSNW.

In her 19 years there, she has worked in many different capacities in the clinical behavioral health program and foster care counseling and case management for state dependent foster kids and with the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to help children return to their families or stabilize in foster care.

Shelly became program supervisor for foster care and later the program director for the child welfare department, overseeing foster and behavioral health. In this role, she also helped start LCSNW's unaccompanied refugee minor foster care program while overseeing wraparound care and intensive behavioral health services.

Her experiences have given her an overview of the LCS work, which covers child welfare, clinical and advocacy programs, with her emphases on child welfare and clinical work.

Advocacy programs include the Community Sexual Assault work in Spokane County. The advocates working in the sexual assault program go to local hospitals to meet with people who have been assaulted, providing services and helping them to understand what to expect, walking them through the medical and legal processes, and connecting them with clinical services and therapy.

"The advocacy program serves anyone, providing support during what might be the most horrific event they will ever experience, providing education, support and resources throughout," Shelly said.

"In the clinical program, most are children, with some adults and sexual assault survivors," she said. "We help children cope with what is happening to them and help parents gain support in cases of sexual or physical abuse and behavioral issues, depression and anxiety. We specialize in trauma treatment."

LCSNW child welfare program staff work with unaccompanied refugee foster youth and foster families, as well as youth and families with high acuity behavioral and mental health challenges. They and their families or caregivers need help to continue to live together and move to more functional ways of being.

 In the Family Outreach and Crisis Intervention Services (FOCIS) program "our goal is hospital diversion, keeping children out of mental health hospitals," she said.

"The refugee minor program helps teens create a new life for themselves. For many, the first focus is on language acquisition and then on our education system. We focus on helping youth learn independent living skills, providing educational advocacy and making sure  all of their health needs are addressed and met. We help keep them connected to their cultures and relatives when possible."

Most refugee minors are 15 to 17 years old, but LCSNW continues to provide support between the ages of 18 to 23 if the youth chooses to participate. Through this program, youth can also receive assistance with education funding until they are 26.

"The youngest refugee minors often came with an older sibling," she noted.

The 25 in the program now live in foster homes and independent group homes. Since the program started in 2016, LCSNW has served nearly 70.

"In our programs, our focus is on our clients' voices. Most services are led by clients on what help they need and what they want to pay attention to," Shelly said.

"Clinical outpatient mental health uses evidence-based practices that experience shows bring improvement if we follow certain protocols," she said.

Most in the LCSNW building at 210 W. Sprague support clients to improve their lives in the way they identify.

They do family counseling but not marital counseling.

Currently, with the COVID workforce shortage, about 70 are working in the building at a time.

"We are not fully staffed in our clinical and advocacy programs," she said, adding that with COVID they started telehealth services, meeting with people via computer, and they continue to offer that to some clients.

"Telehealth has changed the way we work. Initially we saw all clients in the office. Now many staff have a hybrid schedule in their homes two to three days a week," Shelly explained.

Some clients have a problem with transportation or anxiety and staff meet with them online.

With Washington State University, LCSNW works with youth in rural communities through telehealth, increasing the numbers served in rural communities of Eastern Washington by staff from the Tri-Cities.

"We can serve more people and more can receive services if they do not need to drive, which takes gas and time. The convenience allows clients to participate more readily," she said.

"Every person and program in the building does great things. I'm in awe of the services we provide and the impact we have," Shelly observed. "People who drive by the building have no idea of all the life-changing things that happen in these walls."

Clients express their appreciation every day for how their lives have changed, she said.

Staff do not have to be Lutheran or people of faith to work at LCSNW, she said, noting, "We are not about faith-based counseling."

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Northwest Intermountain Synod and churches support the services.

"I'm Christian and my personal tenets help guide me in doing this work. It's the reason I do what I do," said Shelly, who did not grow up in a church. "As I encounter people who struggle day in and day out, my faith helps me continue to do the work."

While living in Oregon, she and her husband explored several churches, trying to find a good fit. Now in Spokane she attends Life Center, where she finds the support to keep going.

Shelly makes sure staff is supported. They have team meetings to process what they experience, not to be therapists to each other, but to gain each other's support and the support of supervisors.

"We encourage self-care. Staff have to be whole to do the work in a healthy way," she said. "We encourage staff to bring their creativity to intervention services.

"We provide services after people have experienced trauma and struggle with it. I always hope to catch folks early because early intervention comes through identifying those who are at high risk to prevent trauma," she said.

Parent-Child Interactive Therapy for children under seven teaches parents how to parent and the child how to identify and deal with hard emotions.

"We make an effort to repair attachment early so children have a good solid base to navigate adolescence."

LCSNW also uses the Circle of Security—an early intervention program for parents and children—concepts in its therapeutic approaches.

"The program exists in the hope that it will have an impact on children and families. We seek to expand that work and explore other types of programs. One of the first steps in the work is evidence-based early intervention protocols," said Shelly. "To help with such issues, we partner with community agencies."

To educate the community, LCSNW, which started in Spokane in the 1940s as Lutheran Community Services, has information tables at events. It also works with schools, the sheriff, police, refugee agencies and other human service organizations.

In addition to support from the Northwest Intermountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, LCSNW holds two major fundraisers, the Chocolate and Champagne Gala and Eight Lakes Leg Aches fundraising bicycle ride. It also relies on individual donors.

For information, call 747-8224 or email

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November 2023