TORRINGTON – A youth prevention specialist position will hopefully be filled starting this fall. Several details, including the title, are still being worked out, but the individual would work to find resources to support young people and families and act as a liaison in the juvenile court system and with the Single Point of Entry team.
Chief of Police Matt Johnson said perhaps the best way to describe it is a stakeholder collaboration. Establishing this position is a partnership between several entities. Right now, they are working on finding funding streams.
“As a community, we have to work together to support the people of the community and that includes our young people,” Community Prevention Specialist Lynette Saucedo said.
County Attorney Eric Boyer described Saucedo as a driving force behind the organization of the program.
Saucedo said, “there are a lot of stakeholders and partners working together because ultimately what we all want to see is the success of youth and families.”
According to Johnson, the job would have three primary functions. The first would be to connect youth with resources.
He explained, “if we just deal with the issue and they show up to court and do five hours of community service and pay a fine and they move on, the likelihood of us ever impacting that kid’s life so that they can be successful later on, is very low.”
Some issues young people go through are generational, taking effort and long-term engagement to move them past the issues. Some kids have never experienced life outside of poverty or life without addiction, for example.
Johnson emphasized the benefits of mentorship as one of these resources.
“They need someone to walk alongside them for a while to show them what it looks like,” Johnson said.
He said mentorship could be beneficial for families as well as individuals.
Saucedo said whether a young person has gone through significant trauma or is struggling with healthy coping skills, a lot of challenges can be traced back to mental health needs. The youth prevention specialist can connect young people and families to mental health resources.
Johnson also explained the need to expand options for community service, getting young people more engaged in the community. An example he gave was doing yard work for the elderly – to help restore the individual’s connection with the community.
“The poorest behavior we will ever see is from folks who have a sense of anonymity,” Johnson said. “People who think that no one knows them, no one cares about them, no one will recognize them, and no one will care what they do, will exhibit the worst behavior.”
“In a community like this one, we have the chance to dispel that. We have the chance to invest in kids to a degree where they’re known, they’re cared about and they’re invested in,” Johnson said.
In addition to connecting people with a variety of resources, the coordinator will serve as a liaison with the court system and serve in ways similar to a juvenile probation officer. Johnson also said they would be a hub for the Single Point of Entry team and the schools.
They would, “keep an eye on the kids in the community and offer those resources outside of just the judiciary process,” Johnson said.
Boyer emphasized the need for this service in the community.
He said, “it’s not obvious to me that people understand how close to the ground some families are living, and how unfortunate some kids’ lives are – what they lack in terms of money, social skills, parenting and opportunities.”
Saucedo added, “it’s not about making a judgment call on anyone, it’s about helping them before they’re in a crisis situation. Not because parents don’t love their kids, but because of life circumstances.”
She said a goal is to help the whole family unit function better.
“The intergenerational cycle of poverty and learned helplessness and substance abuse and the lack of coping skills, and so forth, is an ongoing mess that families can’t get themselves out of,” said Boyer. “In most cases it’s got nothing to do with whether or not the people are good people.”
Boyer said in the county’s previous youth alternative programs, the problem has always been funding and manpower. Boyer said, though the program has taken different forms, there has never been a person solely dedicated to overseeing the program on a daily basis.
“What we really need is somebody who does this either part time or full time as their sole position,” Saucedo said.
Kyle Borger, executive director of WYO HELP, said the goal is for the position to be in place by October of this year.
“We’ll be working with a number of people to start raising funds for that position,” Borger said.
Though the position will likely be housed out of city hall, Borger said, “we’re using four or five different funding sources to support this position – several grants, but we need to raise some local funds too.”
Saucedo and Johnson said Borger’s ability to collaborate and grant knowledge have been a great asset, and that he is able to find funding streams that are not accessible by the city.
Johnson highlighted the importance to the community.
“If you look at the long-term impacts of the success of our youth, it really is more important than anything else,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to help kids recover from their choices and point them in a healthier direction.”
The conversation about this position began with the mayor about two years ago, according to Saucedo and Boyer.
Saucedo mentioned the state statute called the Single Point of Entry (SPE) statute. It requires all youth who have criminal violations to go through the county attorney’s office. There, it is determined which court is most appropriate for the situation and if the family needs support.
The single point of entry statute had not previously been formally conducted in the county, according to Boyer.
Saucedo said this left a gap in the youth services programming. The SPE team was formed to address this gap, including the county attorney, the Department of Family Services (DFS), law enforcement and the school district, according to Saucedo.
Saucedo said she was contacted by the mayor about the gap, and the two contacted the county attorney and a few other stakeholders in the community to talk about what youth and families needed.
According to Boyer, the SPE team’s focus is “trying to prevent children from being unnecessarily involved in the court system if there are other options.”
Saucedo said the group visited the youth alternatives program in Laramie County and asked about how they ran their program. They also spoke with Albany County Weston County.
One of the major goals of the program is to reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses.
“With some youth, it is a benefit to have them go before a judge and understand the seriousness of their actions. But other times, we can probably do more service for them by providing a host of services and get a better outcome than if we just fine them,” Saucedo said.
Saucedo commends the community for being collaborative, with entities focusing on what they can contribute to help families in the area.
Boyer agreed, saying, “this little community is unlike any other little community in Wyoming that I’m aware of in terms of having this level of support and collaboration for this kind of thing.”
“No matter what situation you’re dealing with, if there is hope for a decent outcome at the end, there’s likely to be more success,” Saucedo said.
“When we look at kids who make bad decisions, rather than just reading out punishment, we really want to help them to find things that can help them to be successful in the future,” Johnson said.