As I write this, we are serving 5 youth at the Van Vleck House, 8 boys at Red Top Meadows, all of which just left on their 28 day backpacking trip (see the photo above from a past wilderness trip), 42 families at the Hirschfield Center, 12 youth in the Juvenile Diversion Program, and 180 youth in our Summer Leadership Program.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have remained fully operational as we became like first responders with youth who were court ordered to us, youth in significant crisis who need a safe place to go, families in crisis, and youth who needed an interactive and meaningful summer camp.
Never in a million years did I think I would have created more than 30 pages of policies and procedures about how to work through a pandemic. BUT we did and I think we did it well!
I want to tell you a story about our Group Home. During the shut-down we had to restrict any home visits or visitation to our facilities. These visits are a big part of the program as home visits and seeing family is “practice” for actually going home.
During the community closure we had all boys at the Group Home, each one was struggling, if not failing in school. Over the two months or so during the community shutdown the boys worked with staff on their distance learning school and actually completed their assignments early. We’re proud to say that every boy in the Group Home passed their classes (there was no grading occurring just pass fail).
When able to return to home visits at the end of May, the boys were thrilled to go home and had made significant progress with their families during Zoom therapy sessions. Each boy was able to appreciate their family in a different way. The forced separation highlighted how much love and care was actually there.
During the closure the boys also created a deep connection to each other and to our staff. One day a boy turned to staff member and said, “Hey, it’s kind of like we are just hanging out with the guys, huh?”
While I would not choose to go through the pandemic again, there were a lot of silver linings for our staff and youth as they became more trusting and connected with one another.
As an overall community we have seen some concerning trends. The rate at which abuse and neglect calls are made locally to the Department of Family Services has gone from averaging 15-17 in a month to 2 calls in April and 5 calls in May. This is primarily because teachers are where 80% of where reports come from and children do not have the extra sets of eyes and ears on them to help them if something is going wrong in the home.
Our plan is to remain strong and stable despite the pandemic and the significant state funding cuts that are coming our way. We have a strong team of employees that are deeply dedicated to making sure children and families in our community have what they need during this crisis and in others. We will remain flexible and available to help meet the needs of those we serve and will strive that every child and family member in our community has the supports they need when they need them.
The year to come will be uncharted territory but I do know that connecting with our advocates and supporters will make the bumpy waters a bit easier to navigate.
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote reminds me of the small but mighty nature of TYFS. We are a small non-profit compared to many, but the work that is done is very mighty and that is because of the people that run our programs, utilize our services, and advocate for those we serve.
All my best,
Teton Youth & Family Services
Employee Assistance Donation