Advocates serve youth, families in Castle Valley
During the course of the last three years, the Frontier Project that serves southeastern Utah has worked with 259 youth.
In the three-year period, the project has helped many children and families who are struggling with various issues, ranging from poor school performance and social problems to cases in the legal system.
Advocates work directly with individuals, making visits to the home and working with agencies involved with the child or family. The agencies can range from the Utah Division of Child and Family Services to the child's school.
Children and families who participate in the Frontier Project begin the process with a referral. These may include the child's school counselor or teacher, DCFS self referral or any number of sources.
"The family is overwhelmed with the crisis in their lives," said Brenda Pappas, an advocate at the Frontier Project.
With the stress and the pressure from outside agencies placed on a family, advocates can be an invaluable resource for individuals dealing with a crisis.
"We are a bridge between agencies and families," said advocate Lena Marquez.
In the initial visit to the family's home, advocates introduce the process that they will use.
During the entire time that advocates are involved, an innovative wrap around concept is followed.
During every step of the process, advocates follow up and ensure that the process works. This means that advocated don't just tell a family or agencies what to do and then leave. Everyone is held responsible for his or her part of the plan of action.
Advocates also obtain consent to work with other agencies. That allows the advocate to legally discuss the case with parties involved.
At the point, the advocate starts working with the family, the advocate and family organize a team meeting. The child chooses who will attend. In some cases, there are required attendees, such as DCFS case workers, that may have to attend. But the child can also invite their family and friends for support.
"We encourage informal support from family, faith and friends," said Marquez.
Initially, the team has a goal to find existing strengths and a plan of action. Often, the family is so overwhelmed that they don't see the things that the are good at, explained Marquez.
Once the family has discovered their strengths, they can set up a plan of action. As team members sit down together, various agencies pool resources. Working together, the abilities of the family and the resources of the agencies can be supplemented by other resources the advocate may be aware of.
The end result is that agencies that the family may not have known existed end up giving necessary resources to help the family overcome the crisis.
"Our real goal is to empower them so they don't need us," said Pappas. Once the family knows how to deal with a crisis and understands the wide array of agencies that can help in certain situations, the family is able to stand on its own.
As families participating in the project have set and achieved the goals as part of their plan of action, the advocates have often seen a family grow while overcoming the crisis.
Pappas described working with families that had to be separated when DCFS was initially brought into the home. However, as the family met goals, they began to comply with court ordered requirements.
Parents became better at parenting. Children dealt with and overcame whatever factors negatively influenced their lives. Pappas said the greatest moments are seeing the family overcome the crisis. Families can be reunited and the advocates begin to step out of the picture as the family begins to work on its own.
Marquez explained that families involved in the project use the concept of a team meeting on a daily basis. She talked of a mother who had to take her child to the emergency room. The mother was upset and scared and dealing with the doctors and staff added to an already stressful situation.
But the mother sat down with the doctors and nurses and organized a team meeting. Once she realized what each party involved would do, the mother's stress began to subside and the doctors realized that despite the stress of a frantic mother, the situation was under control.
As part of the federal grant that funds the Frontier Project, there is a research component required. For three years, an in-home evaluation is performed with the youth and caregiver.
The Frontier Project saw 97 percent of participants continue with the research evaluations through the three years. That includes participants in Emery, Grand and Carbon counties.
Becoming an advocate in an involved process. First, the advocate has to have had prior experience with a child with serious emotional disorder. Once an advocate receives a position, they are required to undergo training related to the various roles they may fill. Evaluators in the project are trained by experts at Utah State University. All Advocates are certified case managers through the mental health services provided by the project's partnership agency, Four Corners Community Behavioral Health.
Advocates also train with agencies as they deal with them. With the project dealing with as many agencies as available, advocates learn as much as possible about the agencies they deal with.
"We were always in pursuit of more services for families," said Marquez.