Budget Cuts Force End to Youth Services Program : Counseling: The 12-year-old agency helped those with problems such as sexual abuse, broken homes and suicide attempts. Local financial support has gradually evaporated.
A 12-year-old program that provides counseling for troubled youths is expected to close its doors July 1, a victim of budget cuts being made by its primary supporters: the cities of Glendale, La Canada Flintridge and Burbank and two of the three cities’ school districts.
At a meeting late Wednesday, the board of directors of the Foothill Youth Services Program was scheduled to consider a recommendation to dissolve after decisions by the cities and school districts to withdraw their support.
Board President Irene Mendon said she expected the recommendation to be approved.
The program, started with federal and state grants, was expected to gradually shift its funding to a local base. Contributions from the local agencies peaked in 1988, however, and have now been eliminated in a year of budget cutting.
Burbank hasn’t paid into the program since July. La Canada Flintridge and the La Canada Unified School District both canceled their support last week. The Glendale Unified School District and the city of Glendale both voted to end their support July 1.
City and school officials said they were sorry to abandon a program that they consider worthwhile, but that other means can be found to continue serving needy youth.
“It was a good program that served the needs of youngsters,” said Glendale Councilwoman Eileen Givens, who was closely involved. “But these are tight budget times.”
Since its inception in 1980, Foothill Youth Services has arranged counseling for about 2,700 youths ranging in age from 5 to 18. In 1991-92, 300 youths received counseling. They were referred to the agency by schools and police for problems as diverse as pre-gang activity, sexual abuse, broken homes and suicide attempts, said Greg Ritzhaupt, the agency’s executive director.
Each child received 10 free individual, family or group therapy sessions at a community clinic. It was hoped that families that could afford the sessions would continue seeking psychological help on their own afterward, Ritzhaupt said.
The organization conducted follow-up interviews with police six months after the counseling. Ritzhaupt said that only 11% of its former clients later ran into trouble with the police again or returned for more counseling.
“It was quite effective,” Ritzhaupt said.
The program got off the ground with $90,000 in federal, state and local grants such as the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Preventive Fund of the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning and the Los Angeles County Justice System Subvention Program.
“The grants were always thought of as seed money that would be phased out eventually,” said Mendon, a La Canada school board member. “That was frustrating. They were also supposed to come with cost-of-living increases but our funds steadily declined. Because of budget cuts we always had to fight to keep dollars.”
Office space, bookkeeping, office machinery and supplies were all given free by the cities and school districts. But as the state and federal funding fell to a low of $30,000 last year, local grants had peaked at $35,000, Ritzhaupt said.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich this year contributed $22,700 out of his discretionary funds to the project, Mendon added.
But Mendon said that still wasn’t enough to sustain the agency’s $101,400 budget, of which $59,000 went to client counseling and $42,000 to salaries for Ritzhaupt and a part-time clerk.
Though saddened by the project’s end, Mendon said she can’t cast blame.
“I recognize that each entity had a decision to make,” she said. “I understand fully.”
Officials said they believe the services can be continued through other existing programs.
Councilwoman Givens said that Glendale can deal effectively with problems from juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol addiction to child abuse. This would be done by the Inner-Agency Counseling Program, operated by the Glendale Police Department, in which seven staff counselors provide up to 10 free sessions to youths, almost all of whom are referred by police.
“With FYSP we were paying for a middleman, a go-between that referred clients to outside agencies,” Givens said. “There was no counseling on the premises.”
Another such organization is the Outreach Center in Burbank, a young people’s drop-in center at 348 E. Orange Grove Ave., which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s a place where a youth’s needs can be addressed by one team--a detective, child welfare specialist and a county probation officer. It’s very seldom that we see everybody working together,” said Sgt. Bob Brode of the Burbank Police Department.
However, Preston Oppenheimer, psychologist and administrative director of Glendale Family Services--which provided the counseling for 65% of the Foothill Youth Service’s clients--sees the agency’s demise as a terrible setback. He doubts that youth problems can be solved without a central referral point.
“The problem with that thinking is that most of the referrals did not come through law enforcement, they came through the school system,” Oppenheimer said. “Now it means that families will have to go to a police station to get counseling. Who’s going to want to do that?”
He also contends that the communities that are pulling out of the program because of budgetary reasons will actually end up spending more for intervention when neglected youth become involved in more serious crime.
“It’s an unfortunate loss and very sad indictment of the community’s financial state and seems to be a very fragmented approach to providing mental health services to at-risk families,” Oppenheimer said.
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