Program Keeps Families Together

Program Keeps Families Together

Gov. Kaine grants Loudoun money to create new at-risk youth program.

Loudoun County's Comprehensive Services Act for At Risk Youth and Families received a boost just before the New Year. On Dec. 28, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announced he was awarding 16 localities grants to help support youth who are currently in or have the chance of being placed in residential or foster care.

In 2006, approximately 4,275 Virginia children were placed in residential care through the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA), at a cost of $200 million in local, state and federal funds, the governor's office said.

"This grant provides critically needed start-up funds for communities to transition their systems of care for troubled youth," Kaine said in his press release. "Research has demonstrated that services provided in homes, schools and communities are an effective alternative for many of these children and their families and we know that community services ultimately are less expensive."

AS PART OF the $750,000 grant of state funds, Loudoun County received $160,000 for a wraparound coordinator and flexible funds, which are designed to meet the needs of children and families so children can stay in their homes and home communities.

Kim McGaughey, executive director of the CSA for the state, said there were 30 proposals for money for piloting CSA programs, after receiving money from the General Assembly for the first time.

"This is start-up money to get projects up and stabilized," she said. "Then [those programs] will be transferred to other departments [within localities] so that the money could be used to pilot other programs around the state."

The money received from the governor will cover an 18-month period where the county will begin a program that works at coordinating a customized plan for individual children and their families.

"It is done with a team, which is very important," Jim Gillespie, the county's CSA administrator, said. "Most kids with the most severe problems are involved with several different organizations. A lot of times there are several different professionals involved."

THE PROGRAM THAT the county hopes to develop with its grant money would bring all the professionals involved with an individual child together with the family to create one plan to best help that child be successful. The wraparound coordinator will be a facilitator, Gillespie said, helping to pull together the meeting and helping the families stay in contact with the child's family.

"The wraparound coordinator is an individual who helps figure out what services are needed by a specific child," McGaughey said. "They literally wrap the services around the child."

There are no state mandated requirements for filling the coordinator's position, McGaughey said, but the position requires someone with experience developing and implementing plans in a group setting.

Gillespie said the job requires someone who has worked in social work or counseling, with a psychology background.

"They do not necessarily need to be a therapist because they won't be providing therapy," he said, "but we want someone who is experienced with working with kids and families."

THE FLEXIBLE funds that the county received as part of the grant go into a pool of funds that can meet the unexpected needs of children and families in the program.

"It is there if there are things that cannot be funded through another program," McGaughey said.

In order to use the flexible funds, the county must first explore other avenues, such as nonprofits to meet the needs of its children and families, but if a need arises that is not eligible for any other funding, the money is still available.

Gillespie said that a good example of where flexible funds would come in is if a child is in a residential facility far outside of Loudoun. Family visits and therapy are essential to a child's success, he said, so if the family's car breaks down, money will be needed to repair it if the family can't afford the cost on their own.

"Judiciously, it plugs a gap that the family can't fill or other organizations can't fill," he said.

THE COUNTY has been looking to create a program like this one for at-risk youth for a while now, Gillespie said, but there has never been the money to begin.

"The state grant is a great opportunity," he said. "It allows us to experiment with having a case coordinator with a small case load to see if it can help us put together a strong, community-based plan."

Eventually, the program will include 10 children. Currently, CSA is looking at three or four children who have already been placed in residential home care. The goal is to work with the children to allow them to return home sooner than they would otherwise. Beginning in March CSA will be looking a taking referrals for new children, to work on preventing their placement in foster care. The goal, Gillespie said, is to have six children in the program by the end of June and the full 10 by the end of November.

Each child who becomes part of the program must have an open case with, and be referred by, one of the county's four child service agencies: the department of mental health, family services, the juvenile court system and the school system.

Gillespie said that if the model works, CSA would set up to purchase services from the various agencies involved.

"It all comes in a loop, if the pilot is successful in preventing residential placement or reducing the amount of time a child must spend there then that would free up money to go towards continuing the program," he said.

The "buy what you need" philosophy of the program would negate the need for a contract with other departments and would allow for time to be purchased with a specific need and child in mind, Gillespie said. He added that the department of mental health would be hiring the wraparound coordinator, who would fall under its authority.

"CSA is really just the fiscal agent," Gillespie said. "Mental health, they are going to be the real provider."