WHEELING - Youth service agencies have been providing assistance to the Upper Ohio Valley's children and teens for many years.
In Wheeling, the Children's Home of Wheeling and St. John's Home for Children, Crittenton Services for girls, and Youth Services System offer "Level 2" treatment services for both boys and girls.
Over its 142-year history, the population served at the Children's Home of Wheeling has seen many changes. Since the late 1970s the facility has specialized in residential treatment for males and most recently in care for male youth, ages 12-18. Residential capacity is currently 14.
Children’s Home of Wheeling Education Coordinator Selina Sberna and Residential Service Director Joseph Platt review student records in her office at the facility.
Photo by Art Limann
Louise Paree, executive director, said, "It is our mission to provide shelter and treatment as well as quality of life programming that is not paid for through state funding. With donor support, we are able to offer an art program, music instruction, educational support, substance abuse prevention and counseling. A character building summer program is now in the development stages."
"All of the youth we serve at the Children's Home of Wheeling are court-ordered into residential treatment. They come from different backgrounds, from throughout the state of West Virginia. Most of their emotional and behavioral challenges stem from abuse, neglect or a lack of parental guidance. Truancy and substance abuse are growing problems."
Joe Platt, residential service director for the children's home, added, "The residential program at The Children's Home of Wheeling is extremely structured and individualized. We provide room/board, clinical evaluation, case management, service planning, behavior management, basic living skills training, psychological consultation, individual and group therapy, nursing and community resources for medical and dental needs. In addition, advocacy services, job preparation and spiritual development opportunities are available. All of the youth served attend school."
The children's home has a gymnasium with a climbing wall and a Snoezelen multi-sensory therapy room that engages all of the senses to relax and open communication.
Paree added, "Our focus is to provide quality residential treatment and quality of life programming that enriches the lives of our youth so that they can move beyond their past to live healthy adult lives."
At Crittenton Services, Stacy Rich, director of marketing and development, said things continue to move forward in treatment, utilizing many tools to ensure that West Virginia children and families are receiving the best in behavioral health treatment.
Last fall Kathy Szafran, president and chief executive officer of Crittenton, spoke at a briefing held by the National Crittenton Foundation at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Her topic, "From Adverse Childhood Experiences to Success for Young Mother-Led Families," highlighted and discussed the results of a survey conducted by all Crittenton agencies nationwide and the impact those results can have on the assessment and treatment of children and families everywhere.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences study looked at the impact adverse childhood experiences and trauma has on long-term physical, emotional and social well-being. The Crittenton family of agencies used the survey to help identify the clients' trauma history and define the population of those served by Crittenton.
"The surveys show us the true severity of the trauma and violence many of our clients have experienced in their young lives. Utilizing the ACE survey will allow us to better define the population we serve and offer the best trauma-informed treatment possible to help them heal and prevent future long-term illnesses," she said.
Crittenton's residential program is a behavioral health residential facility for girls ages 12-18 in West Virginia, offering the only licensed maternity care treatment facility in the state. Crittenton also serves young women who aren't pregnant or parenting. The girls in treatment at Crittenton are victims of abuse, neglect and sexual assault, some of whom are battling drug addiction, depression and a variety of other challenges.
Crittenton also operates Wellspring Family Services, an outpatient counseling service available in 18 counties, with offices in Wheeling, Weirton, New Martinsville, Parkersburg and Morgantown.
Wellspring Family Services is currently serving more than 500 children, families and individuals.
At St. John's Home for Children, Terry McCormick, executive director, said his agency deals with troubled boys between the ages of 8 and 14. The average age is 10.
"We opened our new building two years ago and went from eight beds to 12 beds. Since then we have seen referrals increase by nearly 45 percent. We've been operating at 98 percent of our capacity rate because the need is so great. We are almost always full. We take kids that are having hard times at school, bring them here and they make progress. To see kids shine and actually have smiles on their faces, that's progress, instead of walking around angry, that's progress."
He continued, "The vast majority of our kids continue to come from the Northern Panhandle. The average length of stay continues to be about 10-10 1/2 months. We are working with our sister agencies, and the state, in a program called Quality Care is in our own Backyard. It is an effort to keep West Virginia kids in West Virginia instead of shipping them out of state. There are economic reasons for that plus it makes it easier for the kids to see their families."
Youth System Services also offers a wide range of services for youth, ages 2 to 21. It operates the only two emergency youth shelters in the Northern Panhandle, the Helinski Shelter in Moundsville and the Samaritan House in Wheeling where YSS was started. These two facilities provided services to 192 youth last year.
In addition to community, school, and home-based services it has the Tuel Transitional Training Center in New Martinsville, where young adults between 18 and 21 learn skills for independent living, continue their education, and learn work skills needed for gainful employment. Other job training and employment programs are also offered along with a transitional living program.
Mike Toothman of YSS said, "Our goal is to give kids the tools to grow up. We're very concerned about reaching kids early if they need help."