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Governor Praises Center for Helping Troubled Youths : Burbank: The simple act of putting related agencies under one roof has enabled authorities to deter youngsters from gangs and other delinquent activity.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The idea was simple enough: Bring all the agencies dealing with troubled youths in Burbank together under one roof.

There, a probation officer, police officer and school counselors would coordinate their efforts, collectively developing ways to turn around the lives of kids involved in gangs and other delinquent activity.

For the families of the troubled youths, the one-stop service center would streamline and simplify the process of getting help. For the agencies, it would be a more efficient means of providing services.

Sometimes simplicity is the key.

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Two years after the Burbank OutReach Center implemented its cooperative effort, the program is being hailed by educators and Gov. Pete Wilson as being on the cutting edge, an example of what schools, cities and counties across California must do if the state is to respond effectively to the challenges facing today’s youths.

“What they have determined over a period of years is that they can’t work and achieve success separately,” Wilson told a gathering of educators, city officials and workers at the Burbank OutReach Center on Thursday. “Instead, it has to be a joint, integrated effort. They have to cooperate because otherwise those separate systems and those separate programs provide the cracks through which the children fall.”

Wilson was at the Burbank OutReach Center to unveil “Cutting Through the Red Tape,” a report that calls for more cooperation among agencies that deliver social services to children and their families.

“Here at the Burbank OutReach Center, individuals are already practicing the principles recommended in the report,” Wilson told the gathering.

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The report is the culmination of 12 “youth summits” held throughout the state last year. The nearly 1,800 participants in the summits offered input and ideas on how to develop an improved system by integrating services.

“We can no longer afford a system of fragmented services that contains duplications in some services while leaving gaps in other needed services,” the report reads.

The program at the Burbank OutReach Center was started about two years ago, before the summits. From the start it was a collaborative effort, said Marissa Rosoff, a child welfare and attendance specialist who works at the center.

“This cooperative effort we have works for all of us, and it works for the families,” Rosoff said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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The OutReach Center team consists of Cynthia Mella, a Los Angeles County probation officer, Burbank Police Detective Craig Varner, Rosoff and Ann Cocreham, both child welfare and attendance specialists with the Burbank Unified School District.

Concentrating team workers in one location cuts down on the frustration of families looking for help or trying to abide by court orders, center workers said.

“So many times it was, ‘I’ve got to go to Pasadena courts for a meeting. I’ve got to go to the school for a meeting. Then I have to go to the Police Department,’ ” Rosoff said, recalling the experiences of families with troubled youths.

“Now, it’s one-stop service and there’s a consistency to our follow-up.”

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At the center, team members work together and with the family to develop a specific plan for helping youths get back on track. Team members may also help teen-agers find jobs and get counseling, and the center often serves as a clearinghouse for information, a place where families can go to find out about other agencies and services in the community that they might not know about, Rosoff said.

The concentrated attention of team members shows families that “we’re involved and that we care,” Rosoff said.

For center workers, the program has meant a closer relationship with family members and youths, and the ability to deal with problems “right on the spot,” probation officer Mella said.

With a much smaller caseload, Mella is also able to participate in the efforts of local schools to reduce delinquency.

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Burbank Police Chief David Newsham said Burbank has seen an increase in gang activity. The Burbank OutReach Center is part of the department’s efforts to find solutions to the problem.

“What we recognize as a department is that we can’t keep doing business as usual and hope to make any real difference,” Newsham said. “We need to look for innovative approaches to deal with things.”

Those involved with the center say they have not developed an empirical measure of its success, but if changed lives are any indication, then the center has accomplished exactly what it set out to do.

For 17-year-old Danny Valles, that alone is enough.

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Two and a half years ago, Valles was a gang member and a school dropout. He had been shot in the face in a drive-by incident and was constantly in fights.

“I was getting into a lot of trouble,” Valles said, sitting in the lobby of the center Thursday.

But with the help of his aunt and uncle--and center workers--Valles has left that life behind. He is back in school, working, and his attitude has changed.

“You can have fun without being in gangs,” Valles said. “I feel better now.”

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On Thursday, Valles received praise from Wilson, who sat and talked with the teen-ager about the changes his life has undergone since he began receiving assistance from the center. Wilson encouraged Valles to use what he has learned to help other youngsters.

“The kids deserve a second chance,” said Josephine Erentreich, a Burbank community activist who works with youths and who is a friend of Danny and his family. “He got his and he took it.”


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