by Nicole Bachand
If you are a Montpelier resident, you may be familiar with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau/Boys & Girls Club because it sponsors and coordinates the annual Thanksgiving Day community dinner. You may not know, however, that for almost 50 years, the Bureau has been at the forefront of youth care work in Vermont. In addition, the Bureau has played an integral part in the development of the modern field of youth care work nationally.
Bureau staff members have played key leadership roles in promoting youth-care workforce development, provided leadership in the development of a number of state and national policies that have an impact on youths and young adults, and run many direct service programs that have been recognized at the local, state, and national levels as premier examples of how to work effectively with youths and young adults.
The Bureau’s mission is to provide a wide range of innovative and effective programs that empower and enrich the lives of youths and families in Washington County as well as leadership and support to other youth programs throughout Vermont.
Based on Elm Street in Montpelier, the Bureau serves approximately 1,500 Washington County individuals between the ages of 11 and 25 annually. These services range in complexity from community-focused programs to the governance of statewide youth service systems. The Bureau offers prevention services to help young people succeed, intervention to help them negotiate challenges, and treatment to address problems interfering with their health and development.
Included among the many services are youth and family counseling, programs for runaway and homeless youths, transitional living for homeless youths and young men returning from jail, substance abuse treatment, support for youths involved in foster care, mentoring, a teen center, and a 24-hour crisis service.
The Bureau has also supported hundreds of AmeriCorps and Vista members, who have begun their careers by committing to a year of service to youth-oriented programs throughout the state. Training comes through a “Working with Youth Conference” and a partnership with the Vermont Department for Children and Families and the Center for the Study of Social Policy.
Bureau programs have been aimed at helping youths acquire the attitudes, competencies, values, and social skills needed to carry them into successful adulthood. While recent societal trends have added complexity to the issues youths are facing in their communities, their fundamental resilience has not changed. Even though the landscape of family has shifted over the years, the prevalence of social technologies has emerged as a new concern, and stories of school and community violence sometimes construct a dire narrative, young people remain strong, vibrant, and engaging in the face of these shifting pressures.
As communities across Vermont confront the hard realities of an epidemic opioid crisis, an often-overlooked casualty are the children of addicted parents. These youths often exist in impoverished social networks, with no extended families or supportive connections to lean on. While many youths are able to leverage extended family and peer supports to navigate the addiction of a caregiver, a growing number of them are being placed in the foster-care system, have run away, or are living precariously, further exposing them to dangerous situations. In turn, a greater percentage of youths being served by the Bureau are managing increasingly complex economic, relational, physical, and mental health challenges.
This increased need for services is emerging at a time when the field of youth work itself is going through a radical transformation. Advancements in brain science have led to a redefinition of what it means to be and what is needed to support youths and young adults. We now have scientific understanding to support the realization that the developmental process toward adulthood extends well into the mid-20s. Yet services to this age group are just now beginning to catch up to that developmental understanding. Beyond eliminating problems, young people also need to develop foundational assets to function well during adolescence and adulthood.
While trends in youth behavior have shifted over the years, the way the Bureau approaches working with youths has remained consistent, always striving to offer a comprehensive response to the needs of young people rather than a set checklist of services. It is about providing them with opportunities to believe in themselves and their abilities to influence their lives and the world around them.
As youth workers, families, schools, and communities, we share a common goal. We want youths to thrive. We wish for happy, healthy, and successful young people who can flourish as adults. Our wish is that all young people have the opportunity to experience a positive and stable future, where they get what they need to grow up safely and be connected with caring peers and adults. This way, our communities can feel meaning and connection with their members at each phase. A world that has figured out how to care for young people is a world that is better for all of us.
To find out more about the Bureau and its services, contact them at 229-9151 or visit their website at wcysb.org.
Nicole Bachand is the associate director of Washington County Youth Service Bureau