Monroe County Youth Services Office Aims to Reduce School Truancy and Substance Abuse

The Monroe County Office of Youth Services, a social service organization, is developing new programs to address school truancy, substance abuse, and other issues affecting the well-being of local teens and their families.

“Absenteeism is a symptom of a problem,” said Louis Malone, deputy director of the BSJ. “Obviously we want everyone to be in school every day, but truancy in itself often means there’s an underlying problem.”

Malone said the office plans to implement intensive case management to respond to each student and their unique home situation. Malone said this will be effective because it allows for different forms of intervention and improves long-term relationships between schools and families.

School is more than traditional subjects like reading and arithmetic — it’s a chance to engage in the community, Malone said. Missing this chance to engage, as well as missing the educational aspect, can create problems in children’s lives later.

Victoria Thevenow, executive director of the Bureau of Youth Services, said YSB continues to work with the Department of Juvenile Probation to address school truancy. The organization tried several times to solve the problem, but did not find an ideal solution.

“We could get a young person back to school, but only during their probation or supervision period,” Thevenow said.

She said YSB wants to find a long-term solution and establish more regular communication between all parties: social workers, at-risk youth, their families, probation officers and others.

Using existing funds from an established special purpose income tax, Thevenow said YSB will be able to provide multi-faceted case processing services to the community.

“It also fits really well with advocacy because it gives us an opportunity to talk about some underlying issues once we get into business,” Thevenow said. “It gives us the opportunity to really dive into some underlying issues that might affect multiple parts of the community.”

She said several factors play into school absenteeism: homelessness, unstable schedules because parents have to work different hours, substance abuse by youth or parents, and lack of priority focus on education.

The problem affects adolescents of all ages. There are even cases where several siblings miss school for periods of time, she says.

Thevenow said case managers remain at the Service Desk but often meet with families at home as well as school social workers to accommodate student and family needs.

“We hope that if any family in Monroe County or anywhere needs assistance, they are welcome to call us and if we cannot provide service directly, we will make referrals to places that can” , said Thevenow. “We want to be the place you think of when there are issues with children or families.”

Linda Brady, chief probation officer for Monroe County, said she was grateful to Thevenow and Malone for their planning and programming efforts at the Bureau of Youth Services.

She said she worked with Monroe County for 37 years and has always worked with youth services.

She said Thevenow, the court administrator and herself made up the court management team and created an inherent relationship. Brady said that when it comes to juvenile issues, their team also involves Monroe Circuit Court Judge Stephen Galvin.

Brady said the pandemic had delayed planning and launching the substance abuse program — a program with staff training that YSB planned to be in person.

She said hiring has also become a bigger issue across all programs, but she hopes those who apply will stay long and make an impact in the community.

“The plan is to meet young people and families where they are, a strengths-based approach that will hopefully help young people avoid formal involvement in the juvenile justice system,” said Brady in an email to the Indiana Daily Student.

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