Residential youth programs phasing out

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wednesday Sedgwick County commissioners approved the close of Sedgwick County Youth Program (SCYP), a youth program that assists boys with housing and jobs. Today KSN spoke to both youth advocates in the community who are disappointed with the news and a county commissioner that gives us reason behind the close.

SCYP currently offers 20 beds for male juvenile offenders who have recently been released from jail or prison. The mission behind this 3-6 month supervised program, is to prepare these men to live independently. Some of the benefits include housing, employment and the opportunity to save money while taking courses on lifestyle maintenance. Youth advocates, like David Gilkey with Rise Up For Youth, are concerned about the ripple effect that the close may cause.

“The streets are designed to do two things, lock me up or kill me,” said Gilkey.

Rise Up For Youth currently has nearly 300 active kids who attend courses and workshops through the program, to learn how to be the best version of themselves.

“I personally went up to that facility to speak with the young men there and I told them that it’s a great program to be in,” he explained. “Now that it’s closed I don’t know what to say. The streets are like a PlayStation for these kids, if you don’t give them something to do they will find something to get into on the streets.”

Gilkey adds that he believes kids coming from the jail system need that extra push and stability to stay on the right path. These words were echoed by Marquetta Atkins, of Seed House, who says uprooting kids from residential programs has potential to land them right back to square one.

“We all know the streets are not kind to our youth,” said Atkins. “We think we all aren’t affected but we are. Every little thing that happens within our world affects us. So, if we take that bunch of kids, that have already been damaged or touched by whatever the world has handed to them and we just release them, without any kind of guidance without any kind of support, the streets will decide their fate.”

Sedgwick County Commissioner, Jim Howell, says the residential program housed juveniles with adults coming from prison. This is something that he and the Division of Corrections said was not the best practice.

“One of the reasons for the close is the state has been cutting the money off,” explained Howell. “Also, the state is moving away from residential programs and into community based programs where people go from a corrections environment, back to their home.”

Howell adds that the benefit to these programs is youth being able to stay in the environment they are most comfortable in.

“We would much rather have counselors go into a kid’s space, or where they live to connect with them there. We are not just dropping the ball on these kids, we are trying to offer better alternatives,” explained Howell.

The community based programs would allow for youth to have access to their counselor on a weekly basis.

“We will still celebrate them when they get to the end of the program. There is a beginning and end with this, they just won’t be living on site,” said Howell.

The residential program is set to close November 11.

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