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Warren County creates commission to address youth issues

By Katie Demeria

Warren County is taking proactive steps to ensure the health, safety and overall wellbeing of local youth.

Key players within the county have been part of an effort over the past few years to set up what the county's Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday: the Warren County Youth Commission.

Director of Social Services Beth Reavis worked with several other individuals in the county to set up a Youth Services Strategic Plan. The commission was the next step in implementing that plan.

"Back in November of 2012, we had a community partners meeting, and one of the recommendations out of that meeting was that we develop a strategic plan for youth services in Warren County," Reavis said.

"We felt like, if this was going to take legs and take off, we needed a body that would hold people accountable, a body that could look for grant opportunities, to really keep things moving," she continued. "Otherwise, everyone has their own job, their own lives, and it's tough to stay connected."

The youth commission will attempt to implement all the suggestions included in the action plan. County figures like County Administrator Doug Stanley and Comprehensive Services Act for At-Risk Youth and Families Coordinator Jeannie Decker met in the beginning of December to create the plan.

The action plan looks at trends in the community -- including demographic, economic, or even political trends, as well as social and cultural trends -- in order to develop the best ways to address youth issues.

Reavis said the commission's goal is to look at big picture ideas.

Gaps in services, she said, can occur when those looking to help youths are trying to tackle specific issues -- such as why a child is not attending school -- rather than looking at how those issues connect.

She pointed out that getting a child to attend school regularly may not fix the overarching problem. There may be issues in the family unit, from drug abuse to domestic violence, that desperately need to be addressed. Without a collaborative effort on the part of the county, those gaps will persist.

"There is no kid that is independent from his family's situation," she said. "If you can get people to come together with a single vision and work as a collaborative, you can one, save money, and two, get a lot more accomplished."

Funding is a major obstacle, Reavis said. As a collaborative effort, though, she said the commission's chances of receiving grants is much more promising.

Decker pointed out that funding is also an issue for the families themselves. She said many Warren County parents work in Northern Virginia, so nobody is home after school -- meaning transportation is oftentimes an issue.

"There are services available in Warren County, but where the gap seems to come from has to do with the funding stream to help families who can't pay for those services, like transportation," Decker said.

The county's Comprehensive Services Act for At-Risk Youth and Families budget is around $2 million -- but that money was attempting to address youth and family issues without a document like the strategic plan to act as a guide.

"So we said, let's lay out the vision, along with the goals and objectives to achieve that vision, to ensure that the funding is matching up with our goals," Stanley said. "It's an ambitious undertaking."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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