Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson Amanda Gillespie, right, in-home counselor for Youth Villages, counsels Jessica Young, second from left, for severe depression. Jessica also has the support of her sister Christy Young, and parents Chris and Kathy Young who sit by her in their home in Athens, Tenn.,
It was three years ago when Kathy and Chris Young's 13-year-old daughter, Jessica, started acting out. But her actions went further than those of the typical rebellious teenager.
Over the years Jessica, now 16, began cutting herself, running away from home at night and threatening suicide, said Mrs. Young, Jessica's stepmother for more than a decade.
Overwhelmed and frightened for Jessica's safety, the Athens, Tenn., parents considered placing their daughter in a residential treatment facility, where they hoped experts could help her.
But Mrs. Young said they couldn't stand the thought of Jessica going away.
"Emotionally, it just tears me apart. I can't imagine to think of something like that," she said.
Instead, in August, they started working with Memphis-based Youth Villages, a private, nonprofit organization focused on child welfare.
The group's in-home counseling program is rooted in the notion that family can provide the best support for a child. Options such as foster care, the juvenile justice system or residential treatment are considered only as a last resort, organizers say.
Mrs. Young said the regular in-home counseling on how to set and maintain boundaries for Jessica has made a difference in just a few months.
Jessica said the counseling has helped her better deal with her emotions.
"My fits (of anger) used to be five hours. Now it's five minutes," she said.
The idea of focusing on a child's whole environment, from parents to siblings to school life, is a departure from a philosophy that aimed to "fix" children in a setting away from home, organizers said.
The in-home strategy has improved outcomes for children with emotional or behavioral problems and added stability in their lives, said Kori Bell, Chattanooga regional supervisor for the program.
"Our whole goal is to work within the family to help the child and that family live together successfully," she said.
In December, Youth Villages, whose in-home counseling program started in 1994, released outcomes data drawn from serving 17,000 families in 10 states and Washington, D.C. Most families have been in Tennessee.
About 84 percent of the children who were in the program for at least two months were still at home two years later, the report said. About 82 percent had had no trouble with the law and 83 percent were in school or had graduated during that time, the report said.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services also works to focus on family and a child's surroundings, said Rosalyn Leavell-Rice, Hamilton County independent living specialist with the state department.
"We've shifted everything. The new concept is strictly family-focused and permanency (in a child's life) is one of those goals," said Ms. Leavell-Rice, who works with children who have been in state custody and are trying to transition to the adult world.
Youth Villages began offering in-home counseling services in Georgia last year. In August, it merged with a Georgia nonprofit called Inner Harbour in an effort to expand its reach in the state.
FOCUS ON FAMILY
Youth Villages intensive in-home counseling program has worked with 17,000 children and families since 1994. A report released in December on its results found:
* 84 percent of children in the program for at least two months were still at home two years later.
* 82 percent had had no trouble with the law
* 83 percent were in school or had graduated
By comparison, a 2008 study of more than 2,700 youths in the Missouri child welfare system found that more than 50 percent returned who were discharged from residential treatment returned within a year.
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...