Boys and girls from the ages of 13 to 17 years old, experiencing abuse or neglect, or have had an unsuccessful transition in the foster care system, now have a place to live where their behavior can be stabilized, their academic achievement can be realized, and their opportunity for a more permanent residential placement is increased.
In November of last year, Pioneer Human Services, a statewide social enterprise providing youth and young adult programs that aim to divert youth from entering the criminal justice system, opened a 16-bed residential youth program called Pioneer Youth Center—J Street, in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
On Thursday, March 29, the center had its grand opening celebration, welcoming the public and other dignitaries to visit and tour the site. The youth center is contracted through the Children’s Administration at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. The program administers Behavioral Rehabilitation Services, which is a temporary intensive wraparound support and treatment program for youth with high-level service needs.
Such a program like this is needed because many youth Pioneer serves do not have a home. They’re housed in hotels with caseworkers or are in out-of-state placements because of the lack of capacity within the Washington state provider network, according to Steve Woolworth, vice president of Pioneer’s treatment and reentry services.
Woolworth said the desired outcome of the youth program is for the youth to be successfully moved to a lesser restrictive setting, which includes aging out of the program and into successful independent living, returning back to their birth family or adopted family, or achieving a successful foster-care placement. What Pioneer wants to prevent is a youth’s return to a detention center, jail, or inpatient mental health center.
“Across our youth and adult services, we’re moving into a research-based methodology as a provider,” Woolworth explained. “We’re gauging (youths) in pre and post surveys. We’re collecting data while they’re here, and we’re evaluating what’s working.”
Harold Wright Jr., Pioneer’s director of youth and young adult services, said the program is committed to adopting the “Kids at Hope” philosophy, which will include implementing an evidence-based, strategic cultural model that reverses the belief of a “youth being at risk” to a “youth being at hope” paradigm.
“We are focused on delivering appropriate therapeutic interventions that will support all children and young adults, without exception,” Wright said.
Lana Crawford, director of Pioneer’s J Street youth program, told those attending the grand opening that the goal of the program is to provide youth a living environment that is loving and caring.
“These kids have been through a lot,” Crawford said. “We’re going to help them find their future and visit their future and ask them what their ideal future looks like.”
When youth are admitted to the program, they are given a YMCA membership and are established at a local school.
Naomi Paige, assistant director of the youth program, said youth visit the local YMCA a minimum of three times a week, enjoying activities from swimming to rock climbing.
“This helps to keep them active,” Paige said.
Crawford said in addition to attending a local school and also visiting the YMCA, youth also receive mental health counseling on site and academic tutoring.
In attendance at the grand opening were Senator Jeannie Darneille, representing the 27th District, and First Lady Trudi Inslee, both of whom are advocates for youth services.
Darneille, who said she’s excited for the opportunity to chair the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, said the J Street youth program presents an “opportunity to instill hope in children.” Darneille has successfully worked on passing legislation related to sex trafficking and reducing homelessness among youth as they age out of the foster-care system, of which Karen Lee, chief executive officer of Pioneer, thanked her for her contribution.