By JENNA FEAR
At last year’s summit in November, a student shared her story of experiencing chaos in her life at home and what challenges that brought to her at school.
After hearing the student’s story, one person in attendance at the summit said they couldn’t get it out of their head. They realized that student would have a better chance for success if she could be taken outside of her family unit for help. They contacted the LCRB to form a partnership that, along with many other partners, helped form the effort that is soon to open as the Key Youth Center at 710 East Cherry Street in Troy. Construction began around one year ago, and when the center opens, it will be a place where homeless youth of Lincoln County can go to access resources like a computer lab – which was funded by Toyota Bodine – to finish homework or apply to colleges and jobs. It will also offer youth a safe place to stay.
At the summit, people shared personal testimonies like this one, school counselors and LCRB-funded partners shared stories of youth in need they have worked with, and LCRB members shared data from a county-wide needs assessment. Together, these things provided compelling evidence of the problem of homeless youth and youth in crisis in Lincoln County – and the need for further resources to address these problems.
“Homeless youth in Lincoln County aren’t just out on the streets,” said Cheri Winchester.
When most people think of homelessness, they picture people sprawled throughout urban areas with cardboard boxes and other makeshift shelters, but Winchester said that’s not the case for most homeless youth in Lincoln County.
“These kids might be couchsurfing, staying with friends, sleeping in their cars, or worse,” she said.
The summit has proven an effective way to alert change-makers of the community about issues surrounding children’s mental health in Lincoln County. Last year, it spurred the beginning of the Key Youth Center into action in response to the needs of homeless and at crisis youth.
The Lincoln County Resource Board will be holding its fourth annual Lincoln County Legislative Summit and 2018 Mobile Outreach Tour on Dec. 14, and it will begin at the Key Youth Center.
This year, the overall focus will be on identifying barriers to helping youth in crisis and figuring how to chip away at the barriers preventing those children from getting help.
There will be several specific focal points discussed where Winchester and other LCRB members have seen gaps in resources. One is early childhood intervention in areas of mental health. Winchester said that often, children will be brought to LCRB-funded providers at age five or older with health or mental health issues, and providers realize at this point, they are already behind; if they had been able to help the child earlier, it would have been more beneficial in treating mental or behavioral problems.
Another concern identified is that of the family unit and the role it plays in youth mental health.
Winchester said that when we consider the mental health of an individual, we also have to consider the implications of the family unit on that person. A child could be doing really well in school for instance, but they could experience a chaotic home environment if parents don’t have adequate resources to address substance abuse disorder or mental health disorders.
Currently, LCRB has a program in partnership with Crider Health called Partnerships with Families that offers case management and help in the home for children, which includes connecting parents or other guardians to resources.
Winchester said they would like to see a bigger funding pool for family unit help and to use this program as a model of best practices.
Another focus is on what Winchester calls “transitional youth.” LCRB supports youth up until the age of 19; they then have to jump into the world of adult healthcare and learn to navigate that on their own. Winchester said that she hopes to gain more funding to address this issue and help older youth make this transition easier.
The Dec. 14 summit will commence at the Key Youth Center, and then participants will be transported to Troy R-III School District’s Ninth Grade Center where guidance counselor Kristi Gregory will speak about suicide prevention and how the schools have been implementing House Bill 1583, which has mandated such suicide prevention since July 1, 2018. The school adopted policy 2785, which includes provisions for building crisis response teams to issue student risk assessments and enact response plans based on students’ needs, training for students and staff, and student response protocols, in advance of the passing of House Bill 1583.
The final stop of the summit will be at the Justice Department, where participants will learn about the drug court there and see how it has helped families. This plays a large role in the family unit aspect of the LCRB’s goals.
Last year, a speaker shared her story of going through drug court and making improvements; she is now on a path to success, but her children still face the trauma caused by her addiction.
“Mom and dad may get on the road to success because of drug court,” Winchester said. “But if the kids are not connected to resources, we could be setting them up for failure or missing a piece of the puzzle.” The LCRB aims to set children in these families up for ongoing success.
Attending the summit, which has been sponsored entirely by Toyota Bodine, will be local members of the LCRB and LCRB-funded partners, school district members and school leadership, law enforcement officers and elected officials.
Winchester said that the summit provides a means of humanizing problems and showing the community the work the LCRB does in real life. It also provides a platform for the LCRB to share the successes of their work as well as the barriers to reaching further goals and brainstorming how to overcome those barriers.
“The fact that Lincoln County is smaller lets us be more connected and allows us to readily react to challenges,” Winchester said. “We also have the mindset here of rolling our sleeves up and getting things done, especially when it comes to helping our kids reach their full potential.”