Program for at-risk youth shows promise
A grant-funded program to help at-risk adolescents 10 to 18 years old in Eagle County is showing positive results going into its second year.
On July 30, several partners of the Wayfinder program presented those findings to Eagle County Commissioners.
Toni Rozanski, director of Eagle County Children, Family and Adult Services, said the program started with research in 2008 and last school year was the first time it was able to serve children.
“Before, it was building infrastructure for the program and now it’s about client services,” Rozanski said. “Basically it means we’re open for business.”
Wayfinder is made possible through a partnership of 13 entities and five grants totaling a little less than $200,000 for 2013.
Wayfinder’s official mission statement is “to provide coordinated and integrated countywide services, specifically related to the delivery of comprehensive prevention, diagnostic and treatment services to children, adolescents and youth with mental, emotional and behavioral health issues.”
Stated another way, the idea of the program is to identify adolescents who are at risk of needing more severe help later down the road. School performance, family difficulties and run-ins with the law are among many other indicators that a child might be at risk.
“The program utilizes data so we can flag families in need and be proactive in helping them, and have all the core service groups in sync,” said Assistant Eagle County Manager Rachel Oys, who formerly headed Health and Human Services.
By keeping all the service groups coordinated, the program is better able to reach those in need and get them the appropriate services no matter which service provider comes in contact with them first.
“It’s a no-wrong front door concept,” Oys said.
The partnership includes Eagle County Human Services and Public Health, the 5th Judicial District Court, Eagle County School District, Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center, the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections, Bright Future Foundation, The Samaritan Center of the Rockies, Vail and Basalt Police, Catholic Charities, Early Childhood Partners and the Eagle River Youth Coalition.
“It’s working and it something we’re really proud of,” Rozanski said. “As a smaller community, we have an advantage and we’ve been able to overcome some of the challenges that would make this difficult to do in a place like Denver.”
Last year, 41 clients were referred and there was an approximately 27 percent decrease in school expulsions, said Eagle County School District Assistant Superintendent Michael Gass.
“We are also seeing decreases in truancy,” he said.
Though Wayfinder has shown promise in its first year, plenty of challenges remain, particularly with funding.
“Our funds are not sustainable with the way we have them patched together with the grants,” Rozanski said. “We’re exploring ways to support the program moving forward. We have the results, now we need to build on those results and close the gaps.”
Those gaps include a lack of evidence-based services, a lack of culturally responsive services in the community, and an inability to engage Hispanic males.
“It’s hard to find the culturally encompassing service providers and it’s not unique to the Wayfinder program,” Rozanski said. “There are smart, capable people [in the different cultural communities] but it’s difficult to find and recruit those people.”
Finding those recruits would likely help Wayfinder reach the Hispanic males, who are apparently falling through the gaps when it comes to receiving preventative help that could help them do better in school and stay out of trouble.
“We probably have not gotten halfway through our needs, as far as kids,” Gass said. “The transient nature of the community puts kids at risk and that’s a challenge we have.”
Going into its second year, the aims to expand its screening capacity to other agencies and increase its ability and budget to serve ore families. The Wayfinder partners are also helping Garfield and Pitkin Counties form similar programs.
“It’s important to build it around a specific community and not necessarily use the exact same model we have in Eagle County, because what works here might not work there,” Rozanski said.
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