The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 29, 2013

‘My Friend’s House’: YFS director says shelter today offers 20 licensed counselors

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — It’s the job of Youth and Family Services of Northwest Oklahoma to help resolve issues that youth have, and also to aid in finding foster homes for troubled kids, said Dan Buckley, executive director of Youth and Family Services.

The number of youth the organization deals with has gone up, which is a cause for concern, he said. Many times, the child has not done anything and it is the parents fault the child is at Youth and Family Services. One 16-year-old boy lived at the shelter for six months before finding a foster home. The boy was a 4.0 student at Enid High School, Buckley said.

Youth and Family Services began in 1974 as a youth shelter, founded by Thelma Gungoll.  Having counselors that worked with those youth allowed them to expand into more community-based outreach counseling, Buckley said.  

“We are continuously surveying the needs of our community and work towards meeting those needs,” he said. Today the shelter has 20 licensed counselors, five counselors specifically trained in trauma-focused therapy, nine licensed alcohol and drug counselors, and all shelter workers are trained in trauma-informed care. There are three shelter workers with more than 15 years experience.

The facility provides emergency shelter for youth who have run away or who have been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect. Last year, the shelter provided more than 2,200 nights to 12 youth in the Enid community. That number is up nearly 1,000 nights for Fiscal Year 2011, Buckley said. The average length of stay for a child was 14.5 days and now is 17.3 days.

The shelter increased its license for number of beds from 12 to 14 last year, and have the room to be licensed for up to 24. Buckley said the shelter could stay nearly full with out-of-county children. Youth and Family Services is the only facility of its kind within 75 miles of Enid.

“If we had the resources, or if we are awarded a foster-care contract, my staff would love to have more kids. Isn’t that neat. The workers who help these children would like to help those kids not in our area as well, even though it means more work for them,” Buckley said.

They have stopped referring to the shelter as “the shelter,” and now call it “My Friend’s House,” to erase the stigma a child suffers telling someone he no longer is in his home. They also take parental placements. When a child, especially a teen, and their parents are at the breaking point, Youth and Family Services can be used as a “cooling-off place,” Buckley said.

They also provide school-based counselors in local schools to help meet the mental/behavioral health needs of students.

“Not all of our counseling is traumatic. We have a contract with Enid schools to provide licensed counselors and trained specialists that are actually housed in the schools. We deal with everything from inappropriate behaviors, such as anger fits, to teenage drama to suicidal crisis,” Buckley said.

Shelby Hall, the development director at Youth and Family Services, took it upon herself to contact Gail Wynne, who works with the regional food bank. Through a collaboration of a number of organizations, donations from Rotary, and a large private donation, food pantries were established at the high school, then Longfellow and Emerson middle schools.

“A hungry kid cannot learn,” he said.

In working through the United Way, Youth and Family Services has helped, using a number of task forces and committees, to address the changing needs in Enid. One of those was a suicide-prevention task force, funded by a venture grant. They also provide a suicide-response service to area schools when needed. The next training session for their designated suicide trainer, Tippi Rasp, is Aug. 9, and will be sponsored by Integris Bass Baptist Health Center.

Buckley said they will see any child, regardless of the family’s ability or willingness to pay for counseling. They take insurance and Medicaid, but there is a gap that a number of families fall into. Youth and Family Services is the only agency that will see any child regardless of ability to pay. The outcomes also allow for a more capable and successful community as the children grow up.

Buckley’s background has been in for-profit businesses, and since his taking over the agency, the organization has grown considerably — in the past two years, it grew by 48 percent. Two years ago, to meet commitments for funding the shelter, it went $79,000 in the red, he said. “With fund- raising and growth, we reduced that to a $28,000 loss this year. That’s only the shelter,” Buckley said.

Their future plans will address Enid’s growing number of teens who aren’t living at home. Buckley said they do not see them as homeless, because some are sleeping at a friends  house — or in their car. But, it is a problem that needs addressing.

Also, in the near future, YFS will begin a national Safe Place program, he said.

Buckley made his remarks Monday to Enid Rotary Club.