One of my favorite things about the summer is traveling. And I’m not just talking about vacations or weekend camping trips. When things slow down in the halls of state government, staff at Voices for Children have the chance to learn from kids, families, schools, and services providers from all corners of Nebraska.
Earlier this week, I was one of a few staff members who had the opportunity to tour the Hastings Juvenile Chemical Dependency Program (HJCDP), located at the Hastings Regional Center. Reading about a facility and their programs is one thing, actually visiting and asking questions is quite another. I was impressed by the passion for caring for youth that we found among staff and their efforts to create the best possible programs for the young men they serve, seeking to help them conquer their addictions, stay caught up in school, and reconnect them to their families and outside treatment when they’re ready to go.
I was also left with another strong impression that’s harder to describe. The approximately 20 young men that live at HJCDP at any one time reside in a huge, hulking building that used to house literally hundreds of mentally ill adults. Many, many other empty buildings that used to do the same thing dot the campus, in middle of farm fields. It all combines to give the center the feel of a ghost town. Despite everyone’s best efforts, much of it just didn’t feel like a place for kids.
The Hastings Regional Center is in the midst of some huge changes.
The number of youth served on campus has been rapidly declining. With some changes to who is eligible to be served at HJCDP, only 51 youth were admitted in 2012 (2011 saw a total of 115 youth served). The program is now open to youth from the community, not just those paroled from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center- Kearney.
Just this year, the Legislature budgeted a large sum of money to demolish most buildings on the Hastings Regional Center campus and remodel the building for HJCDP. This presents an opportunity to further think about the purpose of the program, the youth that should be served in this setting, and a way to make the environment and the services offered developmentally appropriate. It also offers an opportunity to look at the adequacy of community-based substance abuse treatment for youth and ensure that we have a full and adequate continuum of care.
We’ll be eagerly watching to see what happens with Hastings and other behavioral health services for youth over the coming years. We look forward to continuing our travels and thinking about the ways we can work together to improve all the systems which serve our kids.