Spotlight: The Children Are Our Future, and U-Turn Shows Them the Way

Operation PAR, of Pinellas Park, Florida, was awarded a SAMHSA General Treatment for Homeless grant on September 30, 2008. The grant project, U-Turn-New Directions Toward Recovery and Independent Living (U-Turn), provides outpatient substance abuse treatment to foster care youth at risk of homelessness. These youth, ages 14-18, are residing at transitional living programs operated by project partner Family Resources, Inc. and Brookwood of Florida.

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This program will serve 64 youth annually and 320 youth within the five-year grant period. These youth are aging out of the foster care system or juvenile justice system and are struggling to finish school or even stay in school. U-Turn counselors work directly with youth in the transitional living program to provide counseling and other services to meet their unique needs. U-Turn’s outpatient substance abuse treatment involves the following evidence-based practices: Motivational Enhancement Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MET/CBT 5 or 12 sessions based on need). U-Turn also provides case management and the RESPECT intervention to educate youth about HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis A, B, C and sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, staff working in the transitional living facilities provide educational and vocational assistance, life skills training and referrals for general health and mental health issues.

According to Peter Gamache, Cultural Competency Trainer and Scientific Consultant on the project, “Youth are directly involved in the Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) of the program, a component of implementation. Through these CQI activities, youth are networking with community leaders, conducting research, speaking at professional meetings, identifying resources for post-secondary education, and advocating for their needs. These professional development activities align with the program goals (i.e., a short-term focus on meeting and exceeding program metrics) and provide youth with advanced skills for employment, education, and independent living (i.e., a long-term focus on their recovery and sustainability).”

ounselor Jessica Pitt; Case Manager Rob Bielitz; Program Director Vincent Giordano; Front Row Counselor Vera Suci
  Left to right, back row: Counselor Jessica Pitt; Case Manager Rob Bielitz; Program Director Vincent Giordano; Front Row Counselor Vera Suci

U-Turn serves as a catalyst for positive behavioral change. Thus far, there has been a 63.7 percent decrease in reported drug crimes committed by program recipients and a 70.6 percent decrease in any illegal activity from baseline to 6 months post-intake. “Wayne," a 16-year-old participant, reported at six months post-discharge that he was alcohol and drug free and had been not involved with crime.

Operation PAR Vice President of Development Jackie Griffin-Doherty serves as the Project Coordinator.  She believes “strong partnerships ensure success.” Ms. Griffin-Doherty goes on to explain the network of Operation PAR’s partners “We provide treatment on-site at the transitional living program administered by Family Resources. Eckerd Youth Alternatives is the privatized provider of the foster care system responsible for the care and custody of participants. The Florida Department of Children and Families and the Juvenile Welfare Board Children's Services Council provide funding for ancillary services within the continuum of care. Brookwood also provides housing for participants. The Pinellas County Health Department provides HIV/AIDS three-day comprehensive trainings annually, training for HIV Rapid testing, licensing for HIV/AIDS pre and post test counseling, testing and education, HIV oral screening kits and STI testing at no cost to the project.” These partnerships are vital to the overall health of the program.

“Another element that will add innovation and improve treatment retention in the upcoming months is Operation Par’s plans to incorporate eServices,” said Project Director Dianne Clarke, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Operation PAR. U-Turn participants will be able to participate in treatment via telephone or a Web-based environment.  This feature will provide our youth additional options and consumer choice.

Top left, clockwise: U-Turn Research Staff: Dr. Mark Vargo, Danielle Schiller, Amy Kesterson, and  Vanessa Lewis

Top left, clockwise: U-Turn Research Staff: Dr. Mark Vargo, Danielle Schiller, Amy Kesterson, and
Vanessa Lewis


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