Deal with state agencies ends residential services, but community-based programs for troubled youth will continue

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - LaTasha Villeda (left) and her Youth Villages mentor, Kandice Louis, stay in touch through regular check-ins. 'I needed someone that was going to help me with school,' Villeda says, 'someone I could trust.'Youth Villages Oregon Executive Director Rebecca Hancock says the organization will focus its efforts on community-oriented programs in the wake of an agreement earlier this month to end residential services at its Christie Campus in Lake Oswego.

The closure is part of a settlement between Youth Villages and two state agencies — the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority — that were on the verge of revoking the program’s licenses due to concerns about mistreatment of residents.

For the 74 affected staff members at the Christie Campus, there’s no way around the fact that the closure is a disappointment. But the situation is also an opportunity to concentrate on other programs, Hancock says.

HANCOCK“It’ll give me more time to focus on our community programs,” Hancock says. “I’ve already had some focus with that, but it gives everybody a chance to put all of our focus on our Intercept program and our LifeSet program. And in November, we opened an office in Redmond to serve that area.”

Youth Villages’ two biggest programs are Intercept, which focuses on foster youth, and the newer YVLifeSet program, which launched last year in Oregon and is aimed at post-foster youth between the ages of 17 and 24. In addition to its offices in Redmond and Oregon City, Youth Villages will continue to operate on the Christie Campus, albeit without residential services.

“We still have things going on this campus. I will be here, several other administrative people will be here,” Hancock says. “Also, our Intercept youth and our group home youth will be coming to the campus to see their doctor and do some things on campus.”

Hancock has been with Youth Villages for more than 20 years. She moved to Oregon in 2014, when she started working on the Christie Campus, and took over as executive director in January 2015 after her predecessor, Lynne Saxton, was selected by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber to become the new head of the OHA.

The complaints that led to the campus’s closure began in November of last year, when the OHA issued a Notice of Intent to Revoke the Certificate of Approval for Mental Health Services for the Christie Campus. DHS followed suit two weeks later, declaring its intent to revoke Youth Villages’ Residential Care Agency license for the campus.

“They came out and did a review and identified some areas that they wanted us to work on, which we did, and that’s really how the process started,” Hancock says.

In both cases, Youth Villages responded by disputing the findings of each agency and requesting a hearing. However, the organization separately agreed to meet with DHS and OHA to begin “discussing alternative options.” That meeting took place on Dec. 22 and led to the current agreement.

“We really looked at where we wanted to go and how we wanted to serve youth in Oregon, and the impact we wanted to make,” Hancock says, “and we felt like the best decision moving forward was to focus on our community programs.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Youth Villages will continue to object to the findings of both agencies and admits no wrongdoing. However, the organization agreed to immediately begin winding down operations at the Christie Campus, with the goal of closing it entirely by March 1. All of the youth receiving residential services have already transitioned out of the program, and the organization is now working to find alternate positions for as many staff members as possible.

“I think any time you’re winding down a program, everybody is sad,” Hancock says. “But we’ve also tried to help people figure out what their next step is, and that’s really what we’re focusing on now.”

At the same time, Youth Villages is strengthening its commitment to Intercept, a program that provides in-home services for troubled children and their families, and the new YVLifeSet program. YVLifeSet currently employs three social work specialists, each tasked with guiding up to eight young adults who have aged out of the foster system but still need assistance developing adult skills and resources such as budgeting and employment.

Hancock says she hopes to add one more YVLifeSet specialist this year, allowing the program to serve more people. Since the goal of YVLifeSet is to empower young adults to live independently, she says, the clients are spread out and the specialists spend a lot of time driving to various locations in the Portland metro area and beyond — including Lake Oswego.

Just this week, YVLifeSet specialist Kandice Louis and Mallory Smith, a Youth Villages regional supervisor, traveled to Hillsboro for a regular check-in with LaTasha Villeda, one of the program’s young adult clients.

“Our kids come with a lot of different stories, so we try to make sure — whatever their situation is — that when they leave us, they’re in a better position to take care of themselves,” Louis says.

Villeda, 20, was raised in an adopted family. She joined the YVLifeSet program and began working with Lewis in August 2015. She says she was referred by a family friend and decided to give the program a shot when she learned more about it.

“I needed someone that was going to help me with school, someone I could trust,” she says. “I was struggling, and I needed help finding a job. It was free, so (I thought), ‘Why not try it out?’”

Villeda credits Louis and YVLifeSet with giving her a better understanding of the resources she had at her disposal, including food stamps and financial aid for college. Louis helped her get started at PCC’s Rock Creek campus, and Villeda is about to complete her first year of college, with the goal of entering a nursing program and becoming a registered nurse.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know anything — I didn’t have any resources,” says Villeda, referring to her difficulties before finding YVLifeSet. “Sometimes I would Google search to see what I could do.”

Louis says Villeda’s next big steps will be getting a car and working on ways to maintain the stable living situation that she has achieved. Villeda is grateful for the help, and says she thinks people need to be more aware about the kinds of support young adults will need.

“A lot of the time, people think that we should have everything put together,” she says. But the reality is that “I’m on my own, I don’t have people helping me out, and not to be dramatic, but I have to do what I have to do to survive,

to get where I need to go in life.”

Louis says that despite the circumstances that led to the Christie Campus shutdown, DHS remains on good terms with Youth Villages and continues to help with YVLifeSet and other programs through monthly meetings and case referrals.

“It has stayed positive over the last month with Intercept and LifeSet,” she says. “We work hard to have good relationships with state agencies.”

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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