Monroe County agency seeks to keep kids in school and tackle drug use

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Viki Thevenow, executive director of the Monroe County Office of Youth Services, has worked in or around the county’s juvenile justice system for most of her life. One of the most common problems students face is staying in school.

Going to school can be difficult for many different reasons, she said. Some students may live in neglectful or abusive homes. Others may have parents who work nights and sleep while their children are supposed to get ready for school. Sometimes teenagers just don’t want to go to school and drop out.

The Youth Services Bureau recently proposed a new truancy program that would help address this issue, in addition to other new programs addressing common issues such as youth drug abuse.

Located on Adams Street in Bloomington, the office has provided services to strengthen families and divert youth from the juvenile justice system since 1972, according to its website. The facility was updated and expanded just before the pandemic hit after Monroe County Council approved spending up to $2.4 million on a construction project in 2019. Now that the building has more d space, there are more possibilities for expanded programs.

The Monroe County Youth Services Office is seen after its 2019 expansion.

Office staff worked with other county officials, such as Monroe Circuit Court Judge Stephen Galvin and probation officers, to identify the biggest issues affecting children in the community, two of which were the school attendance and substance abuse. Past programs have tried to tackle school truancy and substance abuse among young people, but have often failed, Thevenow said.

“We’ve had so many programs that come and go, and they never last,” she said. “And we’re just at a place now where we don’t have those services for kids.”

Social workers in schools working to prevent school truancy, but keeping children in school is more than individual work, Thevenow said.

She hopes the office’s new programs, which will be voluntary rather than court-ordered, will work better this time around.

Truancy is an issue at MCCSC and RBB

Thevenow said officials of the Monroe County Community School Corp. and the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Society. have been begging for help with truancy for years.

Last school year, MCCSC and R-BB reported their lowest attendance rates in more than a decade, which was widely attributed to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, business rates hovered around 95%, which is above the state average.

Yet this means that in an average year, one in 20 children does not attend school regularly.

Several programs that attempted to address school attendance did not work well. The county had a truancy court, where referred students appeared weekly before Judge Galvin. A truancy termination program through Family Solutions, a social service organization in Bloomington, involved a woman trying to track several students — sometimes picking them up from their homes herself.

Thevenow, who has worked in Monroe County for nearly 50 years, once ran the “ding dong school,” where suspended or expelled and probationary students came to the Monroe County courthouse and learned together in a classroom. conference.

“We had all these things that should have worked but didn’t,” Thevenow said in an interview with The Herald-Times.

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A key problem with many previous programs is that they were mandatory, she said. Often, at the end of the probationary period, families stopped implementing the practices they had learned to avoid absenteeism.

The Youth Services Bureau’s new school truancy program, which will be voluntary, will involve case management tailored to each family and will work for as long as people are willing to stay involved.

Families involved in the office’s new program will be assigned a case manager, who will work with the schools’ therapists and social workers. Case managers will also work with families in the office and at home to identify root issues and provide support.

The intensity of the program will depend on each family’s individual situation, Thevenow said.

“There are times when you have a family with three or four kids in two or three schools…and truancy is a problem for all the kids,” she said. “It would obviously be a lot more intense than just a teenager not wanting to show up.”

Drug addiction is a constant concern

Youth drug addiction has always been a problem and likely always will be, Thevenow said.

In Monroe County, sometimes the only option for families dealing with teenage drug addiction is individual counseling, but sometimes it can take up to six months to get an initial appointment. For others, individual counseling doesn’t work as well as sessions involving a peer group, Thevenow said.

In the past, the office used intensive outpatient treatment where children and their families met three times a week for several hours. It turned out to be too long for most, Thevenow said.

The office’s new voluntary program will allow children to meet in groups for shorter periods of time. This way the program is more sustainable and hopefully will encourage families to stay involved and build trust with the office.

The program, called Seeking Safety, is already available for adults in Monroe County. It will be suitable for teenagers.

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The county council will decide on funding

Bureau officials presented plans for the new programs at a Monroe County Council business session last week.

The Youth Services Bureau plans to return to County Council in April, seeking funding to pay for five new staff who will run the new programs. If approved, Thevenow said the office hopes to post the new positions by late April or early May, train new staff and begin programs by late summer or early November. ‘fall. Drug abuse among teens tends to increase in the summer months, she said, and schools need to tackle truancy as early in the school year as possible.

“For the truancy program, we want to start in August or September because schools can identify truancy quite quickly,” she said. “Usually in October they know which students have attendance issues…so we want to grab them quickly and give them that opportunity.”

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The Monroe County Youth Services Bureau plans to add new programs to address issues such as substance abuse and truancy among teens.  The location expanded shortly before the pandemic and now has room for more services.

The office also plans to implement other programs such as functional family therapy, a youth advisory council, and a parenting program.

The new services could be funded from the special component of local income taxes that is used for juvenile services, deputy chief probation officer Troy Hatfield told the county council last week. Estimated costs for the first year would be $347,250 for salaries and benefits for new staff to manage the programs and $170,900 for staff start-up costs.

There are enough funds to hire the new staff and sustain the new programs until at least 2025 without raising the local tax rate, Hatfield said. The current local special purpose income tax rate is 0.095%.

Nothing will be cut to fund the new programs, Thevenow said. Money from the fund has slowly accumulated over the years to the point that funding for new programs will be sustainable, she said.

“It’s just about using the limited funds available for youth services,” she said.

Louis Malone, deputy director of the Bureau of Youth Services, said in an interview with the Herald-Times that he hopes the new programs will help more families realize that the bureau offers services to everyone, not just those who are already involved in the juvenile justice system.

“Coming to the Youth Services Bureau doesn’t mean something is wrong, it just means you want to work on something,” he said. “Reframing some of these services, as opposed to ‘you’re in trouble’, what people feel if they have to go to court, to ‘Hey let’s work on this’, that can be really helpful.”

Contact Herald-Times reporter Christine Stephenson at [email protected]

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