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Program Offers Youths 2nd Chance

Times Staff Writer

Young people trying to kick a drug or alcohol habit often face a unique set of problems.

If they’ve been expelled from school, they may face the ordeal of starting over at a new campus. If their friends are substance abusers, they usually need to find another peer group. And more often than not, they need to mend fences with their parents.

For the last four years, the Child and Family Guidance Center, based in the San Fernando Valley, has been helping streetwise, working-class kids deal with those issues through its Dual Diagnosis program.

The program combines treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, which are often interrelated but not always treated simultaneously, said Kathleen Welch-Torres, director of the center’s outreach and outpatient services.

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The program’s counselors visit middle and high schools, where they offer drug education programs and help troubled students figure out how to make up missed credits. They also teach their clients to fill out job applications. And they open their counseling services to parents, who are often the key to their children’s recovery, Welch-Torres said.

“Caregivers are very much involved in the treatment,” Welch-Torres said. “We work with the parents to help provide supervision and understanding of what the kids’ needs are. A lot of times the parents don’t see the subtle signs of drug use.”

The Dual Diagnosis program serves 150 to 200 clients a year. Because most of them cannot afford a substance-abuse program, the full cost of their treatment is paid by the nonprofit center, which receives funding from government contracts, foundations, the United Way and other sources.

This year, the program received a $15,000 grant from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, which raises money for nonprofit agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

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The program’s clients are often children in deep trouble, referred by probation officers or school administrators. Others are the children of undocumented workers who have nowhere else to turn.

Welch-Torres said one of the most rewarding parts of her job is watching youths turn their lives around when they are offered a second chance.

“We’ve seen them go from getting Fs to graduating high school, to getting a job, to getting off probation,” she said. “You can see the kids just light up as they find a talent, or just find something positive.”

The Panorama City center’s Dual Diagnosis program is housed in a 4,400-square-foot space on Roscoe Boulevard. This month, it is scheduled to move into larger offices in Van Nuys.

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“People ask us how we get our clients,” Welch-Torres said. “That is not a problem for us. The program has expanded tremendously because there is such a need out there.”

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HOW TO GIVE

The annual Holiday Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $800,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar.

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All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $50 or more may be published in The Times, unless anonymity is requested; acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed.

For details, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.


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