(EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the years, Lycoming County Children and Youth services and approaches have changed. This series has focused on the newer face and phases of the agency.)
When kids grow up without good role models, they can lack the skills necessary to navigate life's bumpy and often confusing turns. In the case of youth in placement or aging out of care with Lycoming County Children and Youth, caseworkers step in and try to teach them life skills to make a positive difference.
Crystal Minnier, permanency services caseworker, said the support offered to children forms a lasting impression and foundation.
"As a worker, you're their family, you're who they call in crisis. You're who they call from college if they're struggling, and we'll go visit and try to help," Minnier said.
For older youth, two local programs exist: independent living and transitional living.
Independent living services are provided to all youth in placement from 16 to 21 years of age, who are adjudicated dependent or delinquent with case responsibilities shared between Children and Youth and Juvenile Probation.
Transitional living services are made available to youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who were in placement any time after age 16 and no longer are adjudicated dependent or delinquent but trying to live independently, said Joe Weber, permanency services supervisor.
"We try to promote the development of independence skills for young adults," Weber said. "We find these at-risk kids often grow up without role models. This (programming) gives them a fishing rod (rather than giving them a fish), and a better start at adulthood by identifying and building the skills needed for success in life."
Youth they have dealt with often call caseworkers for advice and help, and as time goes on, caseworkers work to build relationships and connect them with other supports within their families and community so they're not
facing life's challenges alone. Weber described their eventual role as a branch, but not the trunk of their support system.
There are 85 youth eligible for the independent living program, and 25 actively involved. On average, independent living caseworker Chad Mix has 10 to 12 open cases where the youth still are in care. He helps the children as well as ones who have returned home or have been adopted find employment, apply for college, practice interviewing skills, navigate community resources and more.
"We encourage kids to remain in school and follow the traditional path of going to high school, and then pursuing some form of post-secondary education, such as 'ecollege,' trade or certificate program. For other youth who have not finished high school, we support them in obtaining their GED and work closely with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, CareerLink, Job Corps, military and others to secure employment," Weber said.
Mix works with youth both one-on-one and in groups, often bringing in colleges, careers, government and human services representatives to speak. Plus, youth are provided life skills education on topics such as budgeting, credit counseling, maintaining a checkbook, tenant/landlord rights and more. They're even mentored on how to conduct themselves in various public settings, Mix said.
For Mix, seeing kids build on the foundation he helped them establish is rewarding.
"(It's rewarding) seeing them become motivated to do something better for themselves in life, like with post-secondary education, going into the military, getting a full-time job, taking care of their own apartment on their own" and more, Mix said.
For Minnier, it's the relational aspect that keeps her going.
"I love those kids! And I can't tell you of any parent I don't like," Minnier said. "Even if parents don't get the outcome of their child returning home, you still worked with those families and built a relationship. When I go into the community, they'll wave across the store when you'd think they'd run the other way."
Truly helping these families and children comes down to having a big heart for people.
"You have to want to work with people, and you have to want to help them," Minnier said.