The shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School shed light on the importance of providing early intervention for troubled youth through counseling services, sparking discussion at the state and national level. Meanwhile, Monroe has no formal counselling programs for its young people.
Police Chief John Salvatore says many juvenile justice cases are being pushed back to the communities, adding most are not criminal but behavioral.
"We don't really have anything to handle that," he said. "We don't really have anything in this town."
Social Services Dir. Barbara Yeager requested $10,000 in her 2013-14 budget to start up a Youth Services Bureau in town. However, a majority vote of the Town Council had reduced it to zero.
Last week, the Board of Finance agreed to not only restore it, but to provide $25,000 in seed money.
"I'm not sure $10,000 is enough," Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed said.
Reed said he wanted Yeager to be able to pay someone to work at least a half-day throughout the week.
Ted Quinlan, a Board of Finance member, asked, "What's the right number to do the job?"
Yeager said she has not looked into everything yet, but it would be somewhere between $45,000 to $50,000.
She was going to use the $10,000 to contract out services. Monroe's counseling cases used to be handled by Family Services of Woodfield, but when costs rose the town discontinued the program in 2010, according to Yeager.
Monroe Needs a Coordinator
Currently, Yeager assists with cases as much as she can and Monroe's youth officers do a lot of work and follow up, Salvatore said. But he added Monroe should have a youth bureau with a full-time employee to coordinate everything. There are also confidentiality issues with cases that police officers are not supposed to be privy to, the chief noted.
"It won't work if it's not coordinated," Yeager said.
Salvatore said Monroe has applied for and been turned down for grants. "I think it's because we don't have youth services in town," he said.
Salvatore said a youth services coordinator usually has a counseling background and Yeager said she wants someone with an Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.
Yeager said the program would serve as a "first step" to evaluate cases brought by families and the schools and connect people with the services they need. For instance, if there is domestic abuse, the Center for Women & Families of Eastern Fairfield County would be notified.
"Do people pay at a reduced rate? And is that realistic?" Board of Finance Vice Chairman Michael Manjos asked.
"Yes, because other towns do it," Yeager said. "It's a sliding scale, some poor [families] pay nothing."
On a related topic, Trumbull Monroe Health District Dir. Patrice Sulik said the district will work with "stakeholders" to come up with local plans to address alcohol and substance abuse issues.