2 agencies to target at-risk teen-agers Joint grant to set up group therapy plan

July 14, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Two of Howard County's most vocal anti-violence agencies have formed a partnership aimed at keeping at-risk teen-agers out of trouble and out of jail.

The Domestic Violence Center of Howard County and the Sexual Trauma Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR) have received a $55,000 grant to fund Youth Intervention Partnership, a 10-week group therapy program for high-risk youth.

The partnership between STTAR and the Domestic Violence Center is a logical one, said Cheryl DePetro, STTAR's executive director.

"Statistically, we know that these kids have come from violent homes where they have witnessed violence or been abused themselves," she said.

"If these kids are in this environment and witness this kind of behavior, they're right on the edge, and many end up in the juvenile justice system at a pretty young age."

The number of juveniles involved in delinquent or criminal activity is rising every year in Howard County. In 1996 -- the last year official statistics were available -- 2,319 youths were arrested or received citations.

Judy Clancy, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center, said an unusually high percentage of children who have gotten into trouble for delinquent offenses "have family problems related to domestic violence or sexual abuse."

"It makes sense for us to pair up with the folks at STTAR and use the expertise we have to develop a therapy group," she added.

Clancy said the targeted youth are at high risk of dropping out of school, becoming teen-age parents, having low self-esteem, abusing drugs and alcohol and engaging in unprotected sex.

The grant -- awarded by the county Department of Citizen Services -- is effective immediately, though the program will not start until the school year begins in September, DePetro said.

The group will meet once a week for nearly two months in locations throughout the county.

About 90 young people, ages 14 to 18, are expected to participate in the project this year.

Counselors from STTAR and the Domestic Violence Center will work with the county Department of Juvenile Justice, the Juvenile Options Program of the Sheriff's Department, the county state's attorney's office, and the Alternative Education Program of the Howard County public school system.

Teen-agers who have run into trouble with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Sheriff's Department will be referred to the therapy groups.

The team effort will be a first for Howard County, said Patricia Flanagan, supervisor of Howard's Department of Juvenile Justice.

"This program is a really good example of how state and local agencies are working together to look at certain risk factors for kids," Flanagan said.

Male and female co-therapists will lead the group therapy sessions. DePetro said many at-risk youth who have witnessed family violence may have been physically or sexually assaulted or had an absent parent.

The co-therapists will provide a positive "mother-father" role model of teamwork and positive gender roles.

Group therapy may not be what these teen-agers want, but it can be a powerful tool.

Group sessions "really encourage them to talk and communicate about things they wouldn't ordinarily talk about to adults," DePetro said.

"The best way to work with adolescents is to use the back-door approach to get them talking about violence, abuse and rape."

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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