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October 15. 2012 8:31PM

Nashua Community Intervention Program makes strides after $7M cut to CHINS

NASHUA — When funding for the CHINS program was cut in 2011, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau summoned service agency leaders to plan for the repercussions.

Children in Need of Services had targeted chronically misbehaved children, assigning them a juvenile parole/probation officer, allowing them to avoid criminal prosecution. Hoping to save $7 million, state legislators decided only 40 to 50 children, instead of 400, with severly dangerous behaviors and mental health issues, would qualify.

Betsy Houde, executive director at The Youth Council, said the change meant court-ordered services would not be available to most of those previously covered under CHINS.

After three months of discussion, Youth Council offered a 12-week voluntary Community Intervention Program to provide parents and children with the tools to get back on track. Initially funded by a $20,000 pilot grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and a $100,000 city grant, the program began in July.

Houde said the earlier issues are detected, the more efficiently they can be addressed. A mentor with Big Brother Big Sister requires $1,000 for a year; involvement in the council's program costs $1,000 for three months while a one-week stay in a group home also costs $1,000.

“If you're planning ahead, you can be proactive and get yourself a year,” House said.

An integral part of the Youth Council program aims to get families communicating in a healthy way. It's based on their belief that so many familial conflicts come down to a lack of communication.

After an intake kids are assigned a therapist and case manager who develop a plan based on the needs of the child. Recommendations can include counseling, finding a mentor for the child and structured family activities. Kids can also be connected with medical providers. A case manager connects families with available community resources.

Houde said they want parents to become the authority, whereas CHINS allowed parents to ask the courts do that that.

The goals of Community Intervention are simple—for children to be make better choices, for parents to feel stronger in their parenting, and for families to be able to resolve issues without court involvement.

Christina Connor, who does intakes at Youth Council, said the target families are the ones who act before a minor problem develops into real trouble. The aim is to get the family in right away. Youth Council keeps slots open to ensure that a prospective client can get an intake the same week they call.

Though only five families are currently involved in the program, Connor said the success is already starting to show.

“The biggest thing is that they're coming together as a family unit and airing out some of the issues that they have,” she said.

Where CHINS put kids into the system without the downside of being labeled a criminal, now there's no middle ground.

At Youth Council parents can also learn about bringing charges against their kids for arrestable crimes like assault, arson and property damage.

“If you can tell that your kid needs services that have the teeth of the court, one of the solutions is to get court-ordered services, and you can only do that through arrest,” Houde said.

Parents contribute between $180 and $300 to participate, depending on their income. Houde said the financial contribution provides a sense of having a stake in the program, and encourages better follow through.

srios@newstote.com


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