October 1st, 2018

Youth Villages closes residential program for girls in Mass.

Youth Villages Germaine Lawrence CampusA residential treatment program for girls with emotional and behavioral problems in Arlington, Massachusetts, shut down in September after a decision by its parent organization to shift focus to community-based services.

That decision impacted 150 staff members at the Germaine Lawrence campus on Claremont Avenue operated by the national private non-profit Youth Villages. The vast majority of positions are direct care staff, including several master’s level and licensed positions, nursing and maintenance staff.

The program is licensed to serve a maximum of 72 girls between the ages of 12 and 22. But there were only 48 girls on site when Youth Villages announced the pending closure on July 25, down from a high of about 67 last spring, said Matt Stone MSW, executive director of Youth Villages Massachusetts-New Hampshire.

The number decreased to 32 as of mid-August and the last of the girls were scheduled to be placed by mid-September.

“We had stopped taking girls onto the campus in June,” Stone said. “We had a feeling things were moving in this direction.”

He added: “This was a process where we just determined the resources we have as an organization, the expertise, that we felt like the best way for us to make a contribution in the system of care and help as many children as possible is … to help families restore their functioning and keep kids home as often as possible.”

Stone said the organization was “working very closely and collaboratively” with the state Department of Children & Families (DCF) to place the remaining girls in suitable settings for their needs.

Youth Villages/Germaine Lawrence entered a three-year contract with DCF beginning July 1, 2017, to provide residential education and group home services for youth in state custody. But it had the ability to terminate its contract with the state at any time, according to DCF staff.

The state agency said its social workers were supporting the youth residing at the program during the transition to ensure their safety and well-being.

DCF released the following statement about the pending closure:

“We are disappointed with Youth Villages’ decision to close its residential treatment and educational services at its Germaine Lawrence campus. Our expectation is that Youth Villages will continue to ensure smooth transitions for all of the youth in their care in collaboration with the state.”

Germaine Lawrence served girls mostly from Massachusetts, although some have come from  Rhode Island and New Hampshire in recent years. Presenting issues have typically ranged from behavioral problems like physical and verbal aggression and truancy to depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Stone said Youth Villages will have some opportunities for staff in community-based programs but that many will face layoffs. Two job fairs were held in the gym on the campus in August.

“Like any major change in an organization, it’s been a challenging time,” Stone said. “Overall our staff have understood our reasons and have worked through with an amazing amount of grace, and the campus has really been very calm throughout this transition.”

The Germaine Lawrence campus is located on three acres with seven buildings, five of them are two-story dormitories.

Stone said Youth Villages will continue to operate community-based programs. He noted that the next six months will be spent evaluating what to do with the campus. Youth Villages owns six buildings and leases its administration building.

Youth Villages is a national non-profit operating in 12 states with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. The organizations started as a merging of two residential treatment facilities but evolved in focus in the late 1980s and 1990s to add community-based and in-home services.

Janine Weisman is a journalist based in Newport, Rhode Island, who frequently writes on mental health. Find her on Twitter at @j9weisman.

By Janine Weisman

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