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Creating a Village

County begins to implement wraparound coordination program.

More than 140 people showed up at Ida Lee Park in Leesburg Friday, May 11, to begin learning about the benefits and application of wraparound coordination, a pilot program from the county's Comprehensive Services Act for At Risk Youth and Families.

"Today is basically exposing people from all parts of the system to the same concepts and ideas," Jim Gillespie, the county's CSA administrator, said.

In December 2006, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announced he was awarding 16 Virginia localities grants to help support youth who are 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 December press release.

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.

THE COUNTY'S pilot program will identify 10 different youth and families, who are either already in the county's system or are considered high risk.

"We will start with three or four who are in residential placement," Debra Schuetz, the county's coordinator of children and family services, said. "We want to step them down and get them back in the home."

Using the money from the grant, the county recently hired Heather Peck-Dziewulski as the program's wraparound coordinator. Peck-Dziewulski has worked with wraparound programs in seven different states, including Tennessee, Texas, Florida and Ohio.

"Every state I worked in had new programs," Peck-Dziewulski said.

One of the things Peck-Dziewulski hopes to do in Loudoun is educate people about what wraparound coordination really is.

"It is a common sense approach, but it is a different way of approaching things than we are used to," she said. "It is just a different focus."

WRAPAROUND COORDINATION focuses on creating specialized teams for each at-risk child, Gillespie said. It will bring all the professionals involved with an individual child together with the family to create one plan to best help that child be successful. Teams can be made up of representatives from family services, the juvenile courts, the public school system, even close family friends or members of the clergy.

"The program really focuses on how we can all collaborate together to get practical applications for that child," Gillespie said. "We all have to learn to row in the same direction."

Patricia Nellius-Guthrie, who was chosen not only to lead last week's training, but also who will work with the county's professional through June 2008, said wraparound coordination is a needs-driven program.

"It allows for a decrease in fragmentation," she said. "And the families are very central in the process. Families are often peripheral and not central in the treatment process. When we work together we get a much different product."

While each child in the county's program is considered at-risk due to behavioral, psychological or substance-abuse issues, the program requires family involvement.

"We need to be able to work directly with the family or with some sort of guardian to make the program successful," Nellius-Guthrie said. "That way kids have less recidivism back into system."

WHILE THE PROGRAM will help at-risk youth, it will also provide a more cost-effective way for the county to use its youth and family services.

"This program is about thinking outside the box," Nellius-Guthrie said. "You can think creatively about what the families' resources are and find some other options besides residential care."

Jeanie Furnari, program manager for Mental Health Outpatient Services said the county hopes to see a decrease in the county's Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS) score. The CAFAS assesses a youth's degree of impairment in day-to-day functioning due to emotional, behavioral, psychological, psychiatric or substance-use problems. Furnari also hopes there is no increase is residential facility placements while the pilot program is in use.

"We figure with the explosion in population, if we stay at the same level it is almost like a decrease," she said.

If the program, which runs through June 2008, helps save the county enough money, Furnari said she would like to be able to fund it full time.

"The wraparound programs are typically highly praised by families because of the more inclusive nature," Peck-Dziewulski said.

"Wraparound is an art, not a science," Nellius-Guthrie said. "Like the African proverb says, 'It takes a village to raise a child.'"