Op-Ed: Connecticut youth services bureaus provide high-value work, little cost

They come to us abused, abandoned, medicated and weary of lives chained to poverty.  They come to us in pursuit of employability skills, leadership training and the opportunity to provide service to the community.  Who are they?

They are the 40,483 youth that sought services from us, Youth Service Bureaus. There are 102 YSBs in Connecticut that serve 145 cities and towns.  All community-based, most bureaus are municipal departments while a small number are private, non-profit organizations.

Op-ed submit bugYouth service bureaus are statutorily defined in CT General Statutes, Chapter 164, sec. 10-19m that states in part… “A Youth Service Bureau shall be the coordinating unit of community-based services to provide comprehensive delivery of prevention, intervention, treatment and follow-up services.”  The legislature established a cost-sharing grant partnership in 1978 between local municipal government and the state to provide a base grant to communities that desired to establish a youth service bureau.

Thirty-seven years later youth service bureaus not only act as the “coordinating unit of community-based services,” but in addition, provide a broad range of direct services designed to effectively and efficiently respond to diverting youth from the juvenile justice system, offer mental health counseling, provide leadership training, bring support to foster families, coordinate summer youth employment, and the list goes on.

So what? Good question.  Youth service bureaus save you, the taxpayer, money – that’s right! We provide efficient and cost-effective services. How much can youth services bureaus save you?  I love it when you ask the right questions!

It is well-documented in this state that providing special services for behavioral, emotional and/or educational purposes in out-of-town placements or to incarcerate a youth can cost greater than $100,000 a year per referred student. But let’s be conservative and average that cost to $50,000/year.

Based upon annual data that YSBs collectively report to the State Department of Education in 2009-2010, 40,483 unduplicated youth were served via combined local, state, federal and private funds in the amount of $29 million (the State Department of Education share is approximately $3.1 million).  Look at these numbers carefully.  YSBs utilize the $3.1 million dollars and leverage nearly ten times that amount from other sources. The cost of providing services to one youth by a YSB is approximately $704/year. One hundred YSBs, one student from each bureau multiplied by either $50,000/student or $704/student – I invite you to do the math.

Okay, I’ll help. The difference in cost is a choice between $5 million per year and $70,400 per year.

What about the quality of programs that youth service bureaus provide?  In a 2011 evaluation report conducted by the Center for Applied Research in Human Development at UCONN, researchers analyzed data from student self-reports from YSBs across the state.

The following excerpt captures how students experience YSB programs: “The average subscale scores on each of the three program qualities measured by the (evaluation tool) also are listed. The three subscales are: (1) Emotional safety and well‐being, (2) Challenge and involvement, and (3) Supportive environment.

The vast majority of participating youth either agreed or strongly agreed with each of the items on this measure. Additionally, the average scores on all three subscales were above 5, indicating strong overall agreement that all three domains of program quality were present in the YSBs. The two strongest scales were emotional safety and well‐being and supportive environment which were both well above 6 on the 7‐point scale.

This suggests that YSBs offer programs in which a large majority of youth feel safe and secure, and respected and supported by staff. A large percentage of youth also report that YSBs offer activities that are challenging and engaging.”

Are we desperately searching to close budget gaps in Connecticut?  Yes, but we, YSBs, are devoted to keep young people in the community accessing natural support systems that can follow a youth well into young adulthood.  The budget gap conversation has been and is certain to be complicated, multi-layered and potentially contentious.  In this complex debate, there do exist some easier answers.  Looking back to the wisdom of 1978 may uncover one of those easier answers.

There is a network of YSBs in this state, the CT Youth Services Association (CYSA).  CYSA provides advocacy, training and linkages to regional, state and federal resources on behalf of its YSB membership. Look us up at www.ctyouthservices.org   You’ll be glad you did – I think you’ll be impressed!

I continue to enjoy my work at the community level; a pursuit since 1977.  I remain confident that YSBs create value for Connecticut youth and families and are a value to tax payers.  I am energized by the consistent high quality of service YSBs provide their respective communities.  CT Youth Service Bureaus under the umbrella of the CT Youth Services Association – we save you money and help change lives!

It is for all these reasons that I oppose the Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget cut of $1.3 million from the youth services bureau $3.1 million line item.  I urge Connecticut citizens to add your voice to our plea – keep YSBs level funded – what is it I said above? Oh yes; we save you money and help change lives!

Alan M. Slobodien is the director of the Vernon Youth Service Bureau and is an advocacy team member of the Connecticut Youth Services Association.

 

Comments

comments