By Debra J. Groom
A program that Oswego County has used for more than 15 years to help at-risk youth and their families has been cut in the proposed 2014 county budget.
The Oswego County Youth Advocacy Program, or YAP, consists of 20 advocates and three administrators work to help families in crisis, youths who are truant from school or getting into trouble in school, youths at risk of becoming juvenile delinquents and entering the court system or youths who could be removed from their homes.
The county’s Department of Social Services contracts with YAP for these services at a cost of $765,000 for 2013.
But Social Services Commissioner Gregg Heffner said when it came time to drawing up his proposed budget for 2014, the program had to go.
“It was budgetary,” he said. “We went through this process for six months with our management team. We received instructions from the legislature of what they needed (for the budget) and I needed to make cuts and this was the appropriate and reasonably safe place to do that.”
Heffner said the work done by YAP was preventative and he is looking for more therapeutic and case work in his department. While he agreed preventative work, especially with youth, is important, he said he wants the work done by YAP advocates to be done by caseworkers in the Social Services department for 2014.
“This was not a judgment about the effectiveness of YAP services,” he said. “People benefitted from it. But we have an increasing number of kids in the justice system, becoming PINS (Persons In Need of Supervision) and they need a more intense therapeutic approach.”
YAP Director Stacie Roberts said she has lots of questions on how this system is going to work. She discussed her reservations with legislators at the Oct. 10 county legislature meeting and hopes, through publicity about YAP being cut, that some legislators will see the need for the program and insist it be put back into the budget.
“How are they (social services caseworkers) able to fill the need, meet the needs of the youths and families?” Roberts asked. “We work with our families five to 20 hours a week. How is that going to be fulfilled by the department?”
Roberts said her advocates go out at all hours if a child or family is having a crisis and needs help. She wonders if Social Services union workers will do the same.
She said YAP works with more than 100 families a year. “Several times a week” her advocates are called out after regular 9 to 5 business hours, she said. If YAP remains cut from the final budget, the advocates and administrators will lose their jobs.
The final 2014 budget will be approved by the full county legislature by December.