Youth Interventionist Program Gains Recognition as `Shared Service Best Practice'

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti puts spotlight on collaborative Oak Park & River Forest effort

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By Community Editor

A longstanding collaborative program on the frontlines of helping at-risk youths and their families in Oak Park and River Forest is receiving State of Illinois recognition as a "shared service best practice."

The Youth Interventionist Program is among 20 initiatives, statewide, to receive the accolade. An overview of the program, including case studies outlining ways in which the program has helped youths, is included in the second edition of the Journal of Local Government Shared Service Best Practices.

The journal is issued by the Illinois Lieutenant Governor's Office, which selected the program from more than 260 nominations. The project emerged from the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force, which Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti chaired in 2015 with the goal of making "local government more efficient, effective and streamlined."

In her introductory remarks announcing this year's top examples, Sanguinetti stated, "At the core of this effort is the firm belief that local leaders and residents know what is best for their communities and should be empowered to find solutions that will serve their unique interests."

Oak Park and River Forest Township officials are expected to attend a July 31st event in which Sanguinetti will unveil the journal, including synopses of all 20 honorees, at the Hoffman Estates Police Department.

Established in 1995, the Youth Interventionist Program's objective is to minimize and eliminate the presence of gangs, drugs and violence, and to enhance youths' well-being. It is coordinated through the efforts of Youth Services Director John FS Williams and three interventionists, Amanda Mueller, Dominique Hickman and Brison Blackwell. Year-round, they work closely and collaboratively with local schools, law enforcement, libraries, parks, and villages.

In addition to serving at-risk youths and their families, the program engages in preventative outreach efforts to empower all children to make healthy and constructive decisions when dealing with the stresses of life.

River Forest Township Supervisor Carla Sloan pointed out that the program is significantly older than all the youths currently served by it.

"We've been collaborating for so long that it's understandable if people sometimes lose sight of just how unique and noteworthy this partnership continues to be," said Sloan. "The sustained support we receive is crucial to individual and collective safety and well-being."

The Youth Interventionist Program historically has been funded by 11 taxing bodies in Oak Park and River Forest. Ten taxing bodies recently voted to continue support of the program.

In 2017, the program provided 82 youth and families with Intensive Case Management. In addition, there were 158 Interventionist Home Visits to client families, nearly 300 youth and families who received other services through the Interventionists including referrals, consultations, group sessions, as well as Cargo Circles that reached 207 5th grade students.

Another 700 youths were served during the year through other Cargo Circles, whose core principle is that everyone has a gift or gifts—or valuable cargo—that they must find and share with the world.

Issues related to drugs, violence and mental health are the most frequent factors prompting a referral to youth interventionists. Many have experienced a traumatic family experience such as death of a parent or parents, incarceration of a parent or parents, no relationship with a parent or parents, parental substance abuse or other type of parental or other physical or emotional abuse. 

"Because of our intergovernmental agreement, Township interventionists can proactively work with many youths who have been in and out of the juvenile justice system," said Clarmarie Keenan, Oak Park Township supervisor. "Through this collaborative intervention, we support youths in making constructive choices—helping them avoid risky, destructive behaviors and relationships."

As part of the Townships' nomination of the program, case studies highlighted its impact.

One example: three years ago, a young man was on his way to an alternative school and was categorized as unable to graduate. After working with the interventionists, he discovered a passion and talent for computer coding. He graduated from high school a few months ago, has a job, and is on track to become financially self-reliant.

Another success story:

"A father with three young children was homeless and unemployed, although trying hard to keep his family going after his wife abandoned the family. The children were struggling and often had to accompany their father to whatever work he could find.

The youth interventionist coordinated a large team of resources from the township, school district and police, and local organizations, and helped the family obtain housing, food, healthcare and other services. 

The family is now doing well. The father holds several jobs and housing is more stable. The children have consistency and safety in their lives. The older two love school, and the youngest child now has full-time daycare so the father can work. The family has medical care, clothing, food and school supplies."

Williams, who began serving as the Youth Interventionist Program director at its inception, said its "whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

"We can go farther and be stronger and more successful together helping our youth than operating in silos," said Williams. "The most important job in the world is raising good human beings. Families confronting the trauma and mental health issues around gangs, drugs and violence need all the community support we can lend."

For more information, please visit http://www.oakparktownship.org/services/intervention or call 708-445-2727.

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