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SLO County awarded for its new youth camp probation program 

The California State Association of Counties recognized Coast Valley Academy, a camp program run by the SLO County Probation Department, with a Challenge Award earlier this month.

The department received the award to highlight the regional approach that it took by creating a local facility where moderate to high risk teens in danger of re-offending could receive residential treatment.

click to enlarge KEEPING IT LOCAL The SLO County Probation Department created an alternative to a group home to help local youth on probation. - PHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTY OF SLO PROBATION DEPARTMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of County Of SLO Probation Department
  • KEEPING IT LOCAL The SLO County Probation Department created an alternative to a group home to help local youth on probation.

"The idea behind the program is in lieu of sending kids away to group homes all over the state of California, and many times outside of the state, we're able to keep them here locally," Chief Probation Officer Jim Salio said.

Male and female youth from 14 to 17 years old who are ordered by the court to stay at the academy for six to 12 months receive intensive case management, treatment, and educational services through collaboration with a local treatment provider—Family Care Network—and the County Office of Education.

Salio said the county currently has two group homes, where teens are traditionally sent to in these cases, but the homes are not directed to help teens and are not locked environments. Without having a curfew to lock the home at night, he said, teens are more likely to run away from the group home program.

The issue isn't unique to SLO County, he said, as statewide counties are having trouble with the open environment model.

"Lots of times, if they're in a county six hours away from us, we may not know where they are for weeks at a time. It's scary for us, and it's obviously scary for the parents as well," he said.

Statewide, Salio said, probation departments are seeing that group homes aren't working, so his department looked into an alternative environment that it could create.

The approach it took was to create a facility that feels more like home, is local, and provides the needed treatment to aid at-risk youth in the county.

Coast Valley Academy was established in 2017 as an extension to Juvenile Hall but is run separately. Youth participate in child and family team meetings as well as individual, family, and group treatment.

Staff and academy probation officers who administer treatment and meetings were trained in comprehensive and substance abuse curriculums designed by the University of Cincinnati and the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program.

Youth also get to participate in clubs, social activities off-site, and community service projects and receive home passes—a pass to go home for a certain amount of time.

"Our program is different in that we really make it as much like a home-type setting as possible, so kids have food in the refrigerator, they have a big-screen TV, and video games," Salio said. "What a normal teenage kid would have in their home."

In order to keep these youth local, he said the department had to create a facility that they would want to go to for help. The program is the first of its kind in the state, Salio said.

In the fiscal year 2017-18, the Coastal Valley Academy reduced first-time group home placements by 91 percent and reduced the risk of recidivism by 44 percent.

To learn more about the academy and its services, visit slocounty.ca.gov and click on the Departments section of the website to access the Probation Department.

Fast fact

On Nov. 7, French Hospital Medical Center announced a $2 million gift for the Beyond Health campaign from local philanthropists Bill and Cheryl Swanson. The Beyond Health campaign was launched in June to support a $125 million campus expansion, including a four-story Patient Care Tower, which will double the hospital's capacity. The Swansons' gift will support a new chapel as well as the robotic surgery program at the hospital. In honor of the gift, the new chapel will be named the Swanson Family Chapel and the new program will be named the Swanson Robotic Surgery Program. The chapel will be constructed next to the hospital's healing garden and is set to have a seating capacity of 40 to 50 people. To learn more about French Hospital, visit dignityhealth.org/central-coast/locations/frenchhospital. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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