ST. GEORGE – Persevering through crippling budget cuts, the Washington County Youth Crisis Center continues the mission of providing support to troubled juveniles and their families during what may often be the most difficult time of their lives.
Funding shortage and recovery
In the fall of 2012, a financial deficit brought on by drastic budget cuts at the state level nearly closed the center. Thirty percent of operations were discontinued and hours of operation were reduced, forcing the staff to demote or lay off a handful of employees.
The Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, which oversees programs and facilities like the Youth Crisis Center, successfully lobbied the Utah Legislature to secure enough funding, while local government stepped up as well.
“The Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee is supportive of funding receiving centers and youth services programs again, and Washington County is a model they support,” the Youth Crisis Center’s director, Tami Fullerton, said.
The center is currently operating with one-time funding from the state’s 2014 budget, a total of $31,000 split between Juvenile Justice Services, the Utah Division of Child and Family Services and the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. For fiscal year 2015, the governor’s office has recommended that amount once again.
“We will not know what funding will be allocated until the end of the (2014 General Session) on March 13,” said Elizabeth Sollis, public information officer for the Utah Department of Human Services.
The Washington County Youth Crisis Center was provided additional funding by the following government entities during fiscal year 2014:
- $30,000 – City of St. George
- $20,000 – Washington County
- $5,000 – Washington City
- $3,600 – City of Ivins
- $2,000 – City of Hurricane
- $1,000 – City of Santa Clara
The center also received $2,700 from a fundraising event hosted by Battle Ball Paintball in St. George, and private donations from families who have been helped by its services.
“This funding will keep it open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Fullerton said.
Making a difference
The center provides many resources for youth and families in crisis. Juveniles who have been arrested and/or charged for criminal activity but are not being held in a detention facility are supervised by the Youth Crisis Center’s staff.
The Youth Crisis Center offers a safe place to stay for runaway or homeless youth, those who have nowhere to go after being released from detention, and those who have been picked up, but not arrested, by law enforcement for dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Additionally, the center accommodates children who have been temporarily removed from their homes and are in the custody of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.
The center also works with the Southwest Behavioral Health Center to help youth like 17-year-old “Ashley,” who suffers from borderline personality disorder and depression. She attends school at the Southwest Behavioral Health Center and is participating in outpatient therapy, but the Youth Crisis Center offers Ashley additional resources to help her cope with the daily challenges of living with mental illness.
When a juvenile in a Southwest Behavioral Health program becomes emotionally disturbed and presents a possible danger to themselves or others, they can be brought to the Youth Crisis Center to calm down. Counselors work with them to understand what triggered the unsafe behavior and how it can be prevented in the future.
“Whenever I have a crisis or just need a break, I can go there and just chill down,” Ashley said. “They’re way awesome and help me a lot. They’ve helped teach me a lot of things and have been there for me when nobody else could.”
Not only the Washinton County Youth Crisis Center, but Juvenile Justice Services programs in general, have been largely successful in their goal of keeping troubled youth out of the justice system. According to information from the Utah Department of Human Services, three months after intervention services, 90 percent of the youths were home and had not penetrated further into the system. Utah taxpayers save an average of $1.15 million for every 10 youths diverted from custody.
The Youth Crisis Center often provides youth with more effective help than they receive at home, school or even in therapy, and provides relief for struggling families.
“They know how to deal with these situations. They help him work through it to understand the consequences of his actions,” said “Jane,” the parent of a 15-year-old son with lifelong mental health issues. “Many people don’t know where to turn when their child is out of control. We don’t always know how to help him, and they were there for us. The center has saved our life, literally.”
Ed. note: The Washington County Youth Crisis Center arranged for St. George News to interview families who have used their services. Due to the sensitive topic of this report and out of respect for the privacy and well-being of the juveniles, their real names and associated family members have been withheld.
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