The evolution toward less institutionalized behavioral healthcare environments is also influencing the design of care spaces dedicated to younger populations. For starters, gone are the days when parents were locked out of a facility and permitted to see their child for only 20 minutes a day. Instead, today’s adolescent and children’s mental hospitals are welcoming parents in—and inviting them to stay.

“If a six-year-old was in the hospital to have their tonsils out, it would be unusual not to have a parent stay overnight with that child,” says Tammy Felker, an associate partner at ZGF. “We’re seeing a similar approach in behavioral healthcare now.”

At Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU), designed by ZGF, the private patient bedrooms are designed with accommodations for parents, including a locking cabinet to store personal items, two beds, a communication board, and a family bathroom on the unit.

The set-up gives needed support to young patients while allowing parents time to observe their child and learn techniques from the staff on how to better manage behavior after discharge. “Families appreciate being welcomed onto the unit, having involvement, and understanding what’s going on with their child,” Felker says.

Just as in adult treatment facilities, there’s also an effort to make room for multiple activity spaces, including exercise rooms and classrooms where students can complete their schoolwork while they’re staying at a unit.

Another trend is the need for flexible spaces that can adapt to the needs of a spectrum of patient ages. “You’ve got children who can’t read all the way up to young adults who could be in college, at the same facility,” says Tim Rommel, principal at Cannon Design. To overcome this challenge, he prefers to design large units that can be easily transformed into smaller or sub-units where patients can be separated by age, gender, or diagnosis.

This flexible approach also allows the staff to close off certain areas, such as a hallway or wing, to a patient in crisis so he or she can have space to express emotions under staff supervision, reducing the need for seclusion rooms.

“Seattle Children’s has a hands-off approach,” Felker says. “They will not physically restrain a child unless they’re really doing something to physically harm themselves or another person.”