Youth Care is an organization that provides intensive clinical interventions for students who in previous years would have fit into the medical requirements of hospitalization. The most obvious difference is that Youth Care treats students in three separate and distinct five- to six-thousand square foot family style homes.
Youth Care is located in a multi-purpose commercial neighborhood that belies its clinical sophistication. Perhaps one of Youth Care's greatest assets is its location near Salt Lake City, which includes sophisticated urban areas that attracts experienced and well trained personnel. Youth Care is licensed by the state of Utah as a Residential Treatment Center, day treatment program and as a child placement agency for community foster care. They are JCAHO accredited, and the school is accredited through Northwest Association of Accredited Schools. Founded in 1989 by Robin Stevens, Youth Care was purchased by Aspen Education Group in 1999.
Youth Care works with students who are considered the most clinically ill with high acuity and includes the full spectrum of psychiatrically involved youth. Approximately 50 percent of the students are involved with alcohol and drugs, secondary to their primary diagnosis. Youth Care is able to work with Axis II diagnoses with borderline personality disorder traits who demonstrate suicidal ideation and attempts. Some students also exhibit cutting behaviors. The program does not work with insulin dependent students, extremely violent youth or adjudicated sex offenders. Youth Care will consider eating disordered and conduct disordered students on a case-by-case basis. They accept students who are considered "socially awkward" and need a smaller and more manageable environment. Youth Care accepts students who are at least average intellectually, and on a case-by-case basis, they may work with students who are assessed within the intellectually low average range.
Clinical work includes a behavioral level system of rewards and consequences to manage day to day behaviors and attitudes. Within this level system, Youth Care considers themselves to have an organized "eclectic" approach to managing students. In the milieu, they stress teachable moments, cognitive approaches in dealing with behaviors and a supportive environment. Each student receives a minimum of three psychotherapy sessions weekly, one family session weekly and is seen by the psychiatrist weekly. In addition, the program provides five group therapies weekly plus substance abuse programming. Every six to eight weeks, families are asked to visit the campus for multi-family groups, workshops, family sessions and other therapeutic activities.
A local group of therapists works closely with the program to provide extensive evaluations and identify individualized "evidence based" treatment strategies. This writer believes that this professional relationship has excellent potential for continued refinement of what Youth Care provides.
Within the industry, Youth Care has one of the lowest therapist to student ratios with one therapist for every six students. Additionally, each therapist communicates regularly with the parents.
Youth Care has trained a number of staff in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) over the past two years. DBT has gained popularity over the years as the "treatment of choice" for Borderline Personality Disorder as well as other multi-problem students. Youth Care has implemented a full DBT milieu in one of its three homes.
The school program is self-contained within each home as well. With three homes, Youth Care is able to provide a wide array of teachers who are specialists in their own areas, thus offering a wide range of subject specific instruction. Three teachers with special education endorsements strengthen the school's contribution to the overall treatment effort. Study skills, coping strategies and organization skills are stressed.
The program makes an effort to get the students off grounds as frequently as possible. Along with the supportive environment, Youth Care recognizes the need to get the students proactively involved with the community and encourages participation in a variety of off campus extracurricular activities.
It is this author's opinion that Youth Care has improved on the care patients received in hospital settings years ago when the lengths of stay were longer. The small home like environment allows for a manageable number of students, encouraging the development of close relationships between students and between staff and student. For the fragile students at Youth Care, the small size, sophisticated clinical interventions and strong leadership make them an excellent treatment choice.