ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Youth Crisis Center has lent a hand to troubled youth in the area since 1995, but now faces an uncertain future due to the effects of statewide budget cuts.
A part of the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, WCYCC originally shared its building with the juvenile detention center, until Dixie Area Detention opened in 2004. It now serves a variety of functions for youth and families in crisis. As the only program of its kind in Washington County, it is relied upon heavily by local law enforcement and justice agencies.
“We utilize (the center) as much as we possibly can,” said Detective Nate Abbott of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. “They’re a great resource for us.”
Case management involves delinquent youth who have been removed from the custody of their parents by the juvenile court. Their situation is assessed by case managers, who then place them in the appropriate Juvenile Justice Services program. Their care and treatment is supervised by the managers long after they pass through the halls of the WCYCC.
Juveniles who have been arrested and are awaiting adjudication are sometimes placed on home detention, which requires strict guidance. WCYCC staff check up on them at least once a day to ensure that they are at an allowed location (home, school or work) and under the supervision of an approved adult.
The residential wing of the center provides care for children ages 10 to 17 who have suffered abuse or neglect and are in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services. It also offers a place to stay for youth who have run away, have nowhere to go after being released from detention or have been picked up by a police officer for dangerous behavior.
WCYCC’s youth services are a collaboration with the Southwest Behavioral Health Center. When a juvenile in an SBHC program becomes severely emotionally disturbed or commits unsafe actions, they can be brought to the center to cool off. They work with a counselor to understand what triggered the behavior and how it can be prevented in the future.
“(Our goal is) to prevent youth from (ever entering) the juvenile justice system,” Assistant Program Director Tami Fullerton said.
Recently, youth programs and facilities across the state have been impacted heavily by budget cuts. Fullerton estimated that 30 percent of her center’s operations were discontinued; the staff was cut from 15 to 13 full-time employees and others are now part-time. In fact, it is only due to emergency contributions that the WCYCC will be able to remain open 24/7 through this fiscal year.
In a collective statement to St. George News, and representing all three commissioners, the Washington County Commission said, “We received a request from (the Division of Juvenile Justice Services) asking for a one-time amount of $20,000. This, along with contributions from the City of St. George, Washington City, City of Santa Clara and other partners, would allow the facility to continue to serve youth and families in crisis on a full-time basis for an additional year. The Commission felt that this contribution would help to ensure that crisis intervention services for some of the county’s most vulnerable and needy youth and families were continued. Consequently, a check was authorized and paid to the Washington County Youth Crisis Center on Sept. 17.”
Despite this, the center’s future will once again be in jeopardy in January 2013. Fullerton and her staff have been meeting with legislators in an effort to restore the necessary funding. She said that some do not seem to understand the services that WCYCC provides, or the importance of continuing them.
The 50-plus juveniles that are a part of WCYCC will be left with limited alternatives if the center closes.
“More youth (will) end up in detention for longer periods of time,” Fullerton said. “The number who live on the streets or move from home to home would increase.”
“It would be a huge loss, a huge hole in our resources,” said Deputy County Attorney Angela Adams. “It absolutely should stay open.”
WCYCC is facing a gap of $100,000 that must be filled quickly. However, Fullerton said that if members of the public want to help, they should think of the youth first and donate items (for the practical needs of the youth) before small amounts of money. Her staff is only able to provide them with basic living necessities and “perks” are always appreciated.
Suggested items for donation to the youth
Donation suggestions include young adult books and audiobooks, G or PG-rated movies, Wii games, sports and fitness equipment, arts and crafts supplies, board games, card games and gift cards for local restaurants, stores and activities.
The center is also seeking supplies for move-in kits, which are given to young adults who have aged out of treatment and are moving into their own apartment with the assistance of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services. Among suggested items for each move-in kit are: An alarm clock, pillow, blanket, dishes, silverware, drinking glasses, towels, pots and pans, batteries and tools, all of which should be delivered in a plastic tote.
Mission of hope
Fullerton said that the WCYCC is a crucial program benefiting the community in many ways, and the youth it serves should remain a priority.
“(During) crises when families have nowhere to turn, we are here,” she said. “We give hope to youth who are coming to us at the most trying and chaotic times of their lives. These times are often a turning point where a compassionate offering can set (them) off in a new, positive direction.”
For more information on the WCYCC and donations, contact Tami Fullerton at 435-656-6133.
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