Cash shortfalls hit youth services

Staff scrambles to maintain programs for troubled kids

Posted: Monday, May 21, 2001

Funding shortfalls at Juneau Youth Services might prompt a change in programs aimed at troubled children, according to administrators. Meanwhile, parents and community members are worried some mental health treatment services might be eliminated.

Changes in Medicaid funding could affect the organization's economic feasibility, acting JYS Executive Director Nat Milner said. Juneau Youth Services is now evaluating its options, he said.

"No decisions have been finalized. We're doing everything we can to maintain services in the community," Milner said. "This isn't about us, it's about the community and the clients."

Staff members should know more after meetings with the state, the city and other service providers, Milner said. A funding shortfall could range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, although exact totals are unknown at this point, he said. The total annual budget is about $6 million.

Juneau Youth Services is a private nonprofit organization that provides mental health treatment, behavior management, chemical dependency programs and education to children age 3 to 19. It runs residential programs, provides emergency treatment and offers services to children in the Juneau School District.

JYS serves between 120 and 150 children at any given moment, Milner said.

Kevin Brownlee, president of Juneau Youth Services' board of directors, said it is premature to say what programs may or may not be affected.

"Administrators and staff have been working to respond on a day-to-day basis in terms of immediate needs," he said.

Parent Les Hamley has a child who receives a variety of services through the Alaska Youth Initiative, which helps coordinate so-called "wrap around" mental health services and assists children in transition. He's worried the program might be eliminated.

"I'm very concerned about who is going to take the bull by the horns and get going with the program," he said.

Milner said Juneau Youth Services is talking with the state about specific issues related to the Alaska Youth Initiative.

Case manager Beth Mercer is worried about the future of the Family Mental Health Center and its work with Juneau Youth Services. The center provides

individual and family counseling, evaluations, testing and medication management, she said.

"The need is here, but the funding is not," she said. "The real dilemma is cost."

Psychotherapist Dr. Roger Abernathy treats both children and their families at the center. He said a loss of services would be traumatic for children who are severely emotionally disturbed and who might be depressed, anxious, having trouble in school or abusing drugs and alcohol.

"It would be devastating to the people we serve right now," he said. "In many cases, the therapy would just end."

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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