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Keeping youths close to home

August 1, 2007
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Stakeholders create a residential center for youths in a rural area of Colorado

Prowers County Youth Center (PCYC), located in a frontier region of southeastern Colorado, meets the needs of youths at risk of out-of-home placement. PCYC is both an alternative to incarceration and a one-stop evaluation and treatment facility to address mental health and substance abuse problems. It is a model of community collaboration specifically designed to keep youths connected to their rural communities and the system of support that will ensure their success.

PCYC is an 11-bed, staff-secure residential facility in Lamar, serving youths ages 10 to 18 in the six-county area of southeastern Colorado. PCYC is licensed as a specialized group home through the state Department of Human Services, and maintains a flexible structure to accommodate runaway and homeless youths, youths serving staff-secure juvenile detention, youths in emotional crisis, and youths in need of foster care or family respite.

PCYC was the brainchild of a community group that meets quarterly in Colorado's 15th Judicial District to discuss alternatives to juvenile incarceration. Before PCYC opened, youths in emotional crisis routinely were placed in facilities 60 to 180 miles away from their families and communities. Youths arrested for offenses requiring detention had only one option, which required extensive transportation resources from local law enforcement agencies. Runaway youths had no safe shelter, and youths needing temporary foster care often were placed hundreds of miles from their families, friends, schools, and communities.

The executive directors from Southeast Mental Health Services, Prowers County Department of Social Services, and Southeast Colorado for Drug Free Communities saw the benefit of developing a partnership and formed a limited liability corporation that would serve not only youths in legal trouble, but also those in family crises, those in emotional crises, or youths struggling with substance abuse problems. While no one agency could afford to run the youth center single-handedly, the trio worked together to create an invaluable, self-supporting resource for the region. The partnership also allows each entity to retain its own identity while committing to PCYC's mission and goals.

PCYC's main goals are to:

  • strengthen families by promoting a positive parent/child bond and enhancing parents' ability to effectively monitor and control their youths' behavior;

  • help youths achieve their potential by providing a consistent and caring environment that allows for psychological and emotional independence;

  • help youths develop a sense of connectedness to others and society;

  • help youths gain skills that lead to a sense of industry and competency; and

  • facilitate family reunification when possible.

When PCYC opened its doors in April 2002, it immediately set out to decrease inappropriate placements of youths outside of their communities, decrease the number of youths losing touch with their communities and being seen as “outsiders,” and increase the follow-up to service providers in the community. The majority of youths at PCYC is between the ages of 14 and 17, and PCYC serves an average of 80 youths per year. Seventy percent of youths placed at PCYC would be at risk of leaving the region for services if PCYC did not exist. To date, 85% of youths have been released to their family residence at the end of their stay.

Following a thorough needs assessment upon admission, youths begin receiving services from various community providers while at PCYC. PCYC's unique wraparound model is the only one like it in the state, and it meets the needs and challenges of providing quality services in a rural area. PCYC encourages family stabilization, connects youth to individual and/or family therapy, provides a safe and appropriate temporary shelter, takes a positive youth development approach in the service milieu, and provides aftercare referrals in or near the youths' own communities.

PCYC provides food, shelter, and transportation, and helps residents stay connected to the support systems that will ensure their success. Residents eat meals together, help with food preparation and planning, do chores and daily tasks, receive tutoring, enjoy supervised recreation, and have preapproved visits with family and friends. Residents are motivated to change their behavior and earn new privileges. Therapy is available on topics such as family issues, emotional wellness, social development, drug and alcohol problems, out-of-home placement, education, and employment. A discharge plan with recommendations on follow-up and continued services is presented to each resident and referring agencies upon discharge.

Through the leadership of its founding organizations, PCYC has become a successful program that meets the needs of youths in southeastern Colorado by reducing the need for psychiatric hospitalization, providing alternatives to incarceration, offering safe shelter to runaway and homeless youths, and offering support to families without having to remove youths from their communities.

Becky N. Otteman, MA, is the Chief Operating Officer/Assistant Executive Director of Southeast Mental Health Services in La Junta, Colorado. Nancy A. Harris, MS, LPC, MNM, is a Grant Writer with Lacroe Strategic Solutions, LLC, in Aurora, Colorado. She previously worked at Southeast Mental Health Services.