Just days before the one year anniversary of the first of 11 youth suicides that took place in the state in 2012, the Department of Children, Youth and their Families outlined a budget with new measures to further prevent children from taking their own lives.  

Keeping Governor Jack Markell’s recommendations in mind, DSCYF presented their budget requests before the Joint Finance Committee in Dover which featured $5.5 million in new funds for after school programs and hiring more behavioral healthcare specialists.

During Governor Markell’s State of the State address and budget proposal, he underscored the importance of investing more in the state’s youth particularly in the pre-teen age group.

“We support the governor’s recommendation for $3.3 million dollars to expand access to behavioral health services,” said Dr. Susan Cycyk, director of the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services for DSCYF. “This includes the expansion of our behavioral health consultant program in middle schools.”

Using $3.3 million, the department plans to add 30 new clinical behavioral consultants to work with every middle school in the state. Currently the state has three, one in Sussex County and two in New Castle County.

“The clinical consultants provide suicide risk assessment, substance use treatment, individual and family counseling, behavioral health consultation for school staff and other services they may need,” added Cycyk.

Research conducted in the state revealed that 20 percent of middle school age children have seriously considered committing suicide, more than 30 percent have used alcohol and more than 40 percent have experimented with drugs.

“We know that that’s a critical age, we know from statistics that that’s when kids begin to experiment with drugs and sexual activity and we want to be there as a support for the schools and the students going through some of these issues,” explained Karryl McManus, acting secretary of DSCYF.

Additionally, $2.5 million requested would go toward after school and summer programs through a competitive grant system.

Another topic discussed heavily during the hearing was the closing of Brenford Residential Treatment Center in Kent County and consolidating those services to the Silver Lake Residential Treatment Center in Middletown. The approximately $263,000 request would provide short-term housing to children currently in treatment.

“Brenford is a single family home in an isolated setting that is not easily accessible to major roads and other services,” said Cycyk. “The layout of this privately owned home makes supervising multiple residents difficult. It is important to note that this is not a foster home or group home. This is a residential treatment facility. As such, it should have proper sight lines for supervision of youth being treated for mental health issues, which it does not. Our proposal to move these youth to the Middletown Silver Lake Center under a long term lease will allow for a safer environment and therefore better treatment.”

Cycyk added that RTC children already attended school at Silver Lake so it would eliminate transportation costs and make things more efficient for students and staff.

“The children themselves would benefit from having all their education, housing and treatment needs served in one location. Parents will also have better access to their children because of bus routes and more direct travel via major roadways,” added Cycyk.

The biggest issue legislators took with that proposal is that the consolidation to Silver Lake, would eliminate services in Kent County. However, Kent County youth would still have access to treatment at the Middletown location.

Under the Youth Rehabilitative Services umbrella, no new funding requests were made. In fact, the division requested moving $1.4 million from its budget to the Department of Family Service’s Child Welfare Budget, due to sustained low numbers of residential community services placements.

DFS also requested $515,000 for need based stipends for their Ready for 21 program to help youth aging out of foster care.

“This is an effort to support youth transitioning from foster care, since they are at such high risk for homelessness and poverty,” explained Vicky Kelly, division director. “After careful study of various options, we are proposing to create needs-based stipends to help these young people with basic expenses such as utilities and transportation. These stipends would be approved and monitored by the young person’s case manager in independent living services.”

Final decisions on these requests will be released in July.