From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 31 - July 31, 2008
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County dealing with more at-risk youth

by Jonathan Van Dyke

Facing recent population increases nearing 10 percent annually, Sublette County has seen a newfound need to tackle problems regarding its most heralded resource: youth.

Both local government and the private sector have seen a need to readdress a growing youth populace, and the troubles that can come with keeping families together.

“[Troubled and at-risk children come] more from growth, but also an overall increase in awareness because of your growth,” said John Hudson, county manager for the Department of Family Services.

Still, with numbers of youth-in-need on the rise, Sublette County has responded. The County Commission has recently put aside money for various “human health services,” including $30,000 for the Van Vleck House — a facility that has seen a great increase in need from this county.

“Typically we were at 10 percent [of our capacity] from Sublette County, but then in 2006 and 2007 [demand] went up to 33 percent of the kids we serve,” Director Cindy Knight said. “It’s not really clear why it has increased so much. It probably has somewhat to do with population increases or added stress.”

Knight’s program runs a 30-day crisis shelter and a 10-bed group home. She sees kids mainly in need of adult supervision (who are considered out of the control of their parents), minor delinquents or child protection cases (far fewer in numbers). The commission has taken a stance in helping, when possible, a number of programs similar to the Van Vleck House financially, while looking at other solutions too.

“Regarding youth-related programs, I have spoken to Kathy Anderson, our Drug Court Coordinator, and asked her to expand her responsibilities to include several different youth-related programs and provide some level of oversight of them on behalf of the commission,” Chairman William Cramer said.

Knight has seen her numbers increase somewhat for cases, but more so for the amount of time required on each case. “Especially with crisis kids, what we’re trying to do is help the communication between the family,” Knight said. “We have a program that takes them through phases.”

Van Vleck is actually located in Teton County and services Sublette and Lincoln counties as well. Several people are looking into possibly starting a home in Sublette County to help keep families closer together during the process. Today’s offerings have been a long time in the making, with increases in social services in the county.

“I can tell you when I moved here nine years ago, there was just a community counseling center,” said Dayle Read-Hudson, director of Pine Creek Family Counseling.

“There was nobody else providing therapeutic services at the time.”

Much like her fellow service providers, Read-Hudson has seen her clientele rise. “It’s definitely tripled over, I’d say, the last five years,” she said.

Starting with just herself, Read-Hudson has expanded to another full-time therapist and an intern since opening her doors. She is glad to see the rest of the county has begun to expand other services too.

“There needs to be a lot of providers available,” Read-Hudson said. “It’s important for there to be some kind of community component.”

The importance of certain infrastructure beyond treatment is also key, she said. Youth programs and places for youth to congregate can go a long way to keep delinquency down.

“To me those are the trends, the sheer numbers that we have in our community, and not having some things in place that we might need in place; to me it’s kind of a combination of those two factors,” she added. “It seems to me the community is doing a pretty good job of figuring out what we’re needing.” Policing institutions are also working on streamlining the juvenile process. County Attorney Lucky McMahon has a particular interest in helping the county’s youth avoid the court system.

“There is just a lot of strenuous probation, and it makes it hard for some juveniles to succeed sometimes,” McMahon said.

In conjunction with the sheriff’s department, a diversion program is beginning to get off the ground.

“It’s a better way of handling kids who have never been in trouble,” McMahon said. “That is a program I want our office to get behind, to help work with these kids.”

Deputy Joe Ahlstrom runs the program that started back in April.

“It’s set up to divert first-time offenders, or some of the lesser offenders, and gives them a chance to avoid the full court process,” Ahlstrom said.

With the approval of the county attorney’s office, and the full consent of both the parents and the child, the process may begin. “There will be stipulations, terms, responsibilities, for this juvenile to perform based on the offense they committed,” Ahlstrom said. “It would last for potentially six months, at which time if they did everything appropriately…that charge would not then be filed.”

Juveniles able to qualify for the system will be on a case-by-case basis but would generally fall into the following categories: minor in possession, minor under the influence, first-time drug offenses, fighting and other such misdemeanors.

“Over the past couple of years we have seen an increase [in troubled or at-risk youth] and we have maintained that increase,” Ahlstrom said. “We’re placing more and more kids out of the home into group homes or treatment facilities.

“That’s why I think the timing for this type of program is significant because it will help alleviate the court system of lesser offenses, and hopefully the kids that do go to court will receive more services.”

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