Budget Cuts Threaten Some Mental Health Services For Teens

Sep 1, 2014

Earlier this summer, the Shumlin administration announced that revenue projections have been too rosy and that budget cuts will now be needed.

That’s creating stress among social service providers.

One program that faces an uncertain future due to cuts endeavors to help at-risk young people in the Upper Valley. 

Micah Porter is 19, with a mop of curly red hair springing out of a baseball cap.

He’s wearing a black t-shirt advertising his favorite band, and he’s waiting for kids to arrive at The Junction, a teen center in White River Junction. 

His job—to befriend peers who need help managing their lives but may not want to hear that from an adult.

“We have our own world and we’re the ones that can fix it, we feel like we’re the ones that can fix it, I mean adults can help too, but it’s really great having youth that are willing to help each other and it’s really great to have funding for this group so that we can do that,” Porter says.

Before he started working for Youth in Transition, a program that sometimes uses this teen center, Micah says he himself needed help managing his own moods.

“During the week I might be mad at my parents for something, that might be, you know, making me really angry, keeping me from eating, making me feel unpleasant, but these groups, a safe space for you to go in and share what you need to share, all the kids are always ready to help each other,” he says.

Micah has a big cheerleader in Katie O’Day. She’s the Youth In Transition peer navigator who works for the non-profit Clara Martin Center, which provides mental health services in Orange and Windsor counties.

O’Day will sometimes prowl around neighborhoods looking for with kids who seem troubled or at loose ends.

“Teenagers hate making phone calls, and so really a lot of the outreach is getting referrals from places that might see that in kids and know that they are not getting treatment. So it’s just connecting to them to whatever services they need, whether it be substance abuse or mental health, or further education or any of that. But it’s really about a lot of kids who are left behind,” O’Day says.

But federal funding for the program has dried up, and now state funding is in question.

Tammy Austin, who supervises this program for the Clara Martin Center, says weakening the Youth in Transition program would be a big mistake.

“You know our services are able to go out in the community, grab the kids where they’re at where they may be quite ready to come in, so we are really getting them as they are starting to get in trouble and that’s a crucial time,” Austin says.

She says saving money now on outreach could mean spending more on addiction treatment later on.

UPDATE: After this story aired, state Senator Jane Kitchell, democrat, Caledonia-Orange Counties,wrote in an email that "...this program was spared in the rescission process. Whether there will be funding for its continuation in FY '16 is another question which will have to be part of next year's budget deliberations."