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Regional Networks Get Disconnected

Correction to this article: The location of a satellite office for the Southeastern Network of Youth & Family Services was incorrect. The office is located in Knoxville, Tenn.

The regional networks that for 30 years helped train and support agencies that serve homeless and runaway youth are collapsing or scrambling to survive because of a change in federal funding.

Beginning this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, money that once went to the 10 networks from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) has been directed instead to two federal resource centers in Tulsa, Okla. The funding loss has led one network to shut down, at least two others to close their offices but keep functioning, and several to hunt for new funding sources and shift their missions.

“We are still in existence,” declared Laurie Jackson, two days before she ended her status as the last paid staffer for The M.I.N.K. (Missouri, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas) Network, which now has no office or salaried employees.

From Start to Finish

The networks were first funded through the 1977 Juvenile Justice Amendments to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The networks were set up to train youth workers at homeless and runaway youth programs on everything from administrative tasks to direct services. Each network was assigned to one of 10 federal regions, and was to recruit member agencies from its region. (The networks didn’t all turn out that way; see box.)

As the networks developed, some hewed close to the lines of runaway and homeless programs, while others used different funding sources and developed into broader technical providers that helped build capacity for various types of agencies.

The latter group has been better positioned to survive the change instituted in 2007, when FYSB awarded cooperative agreements to two national centers to serve all regions: one for training, one for technical support, both operated by the University of Oklahoma National Resource Center for Youth Services, in Tulsa. The center is headed by Peter Correia III. Starting this fiscal year, the center is receiving $2.1 million – $1 million for training and $1.1 million for technical assistance – from FYSB. The combined federal expenditure for the 10 networks was also $2.1 million.

Curtis Porter, FYSB acting associate commissioner, said the switch to one provider was designed to give all local agencies a similar level of service. Some regional networks question whether the change is for the better.

The switch leaves a big financial gap for the networks, whose grants, according to Porter, recently ranged from $175,000 to $240,000.

Although the regional networks all have membership fees, they have not been sufficient to keep them running.

Changes

Probably the best situated group is the Mid-Atlantic Network of Youth & Family Services, located in Pittsburgh and serving federal Region III. The network, established in 1988, has more than doubled its annual budget, despite the loss of the federal grant money.

Executive Director Megan Klein said the budget has climbed to $1.8 million from $700,000, largely because of a new cooperative agreement to provide training and technical assistance to the Mentors for Children of Prisoners program. The agency has added two full-time staff members and several contractors, Klein said.

MANY, as it identifies itself, diversified long ago, increasing services as member nonprofits expanded their own reach, Klein said. The agency has developed considerable depth in the domestic violence and dating violence areas. “We saw these as our core work,” Klein said.

Also doing well is the Southeastern Network of Youth & Family Services, which used to serve Region IV and is headquartered in Tallahassee, Fla.

“We are fine,” said Executive Director Sherry Allen, who works out of an office in Bonita Spring, in south Florida. “We planned ahead and diversified,” performing training and technical support functions for other areas of public service and winning grants from other federal agencies, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service. She said the network also is “doing a lot of fee-for-services work” and has expanded into areas outside of Region IV, such as Arizona.

In addition to Tallahassee, the network has an office in Nashville and contractors in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta.

The change has had a more significant impact elsewhere:

• The Western States Youth Services Network, based in Petaluma, Calif., and covering Region IX, shut its doors. “We simply do not have sufficient funds for our next year to continue at the level that our members have come to expect,” the board of directors wrote in an e-mail to members in mid-September. This network had the largest federal grant, $240,000, according to Porter.

• The Southwest Network is limping along with a board of directors, but no direct funding and no staff. The Texas Network of Youth Services – which for years managed the Southwest Network on the FYSB grant – is trying to keep it going while finding new funding for itself as well.

Last fiscal year, the Texas group got $225,000 to run the regional network.

“In anticipation of this [change], we have diversified funding,” said Theresa Tod, executive director of the Texas Network, which serves more than 100 agencies through training and other services.

One option is to ask agencies to pay for some services. “The problem with that is that youth agencies don’t have any money to pay for training,” Tod said.

• The Empire State Coalition of Youth & Family Services, which ran the Region II network but actually only served New York, has struggled with the funding change, but “has been hit harder by state budget cuts,” said Executive Director Margo Hirsch. The coalition “always had more than the federal grant,” she said.

The network has cut its staff by one professional and one youth assistant, and plans to give up its expensive office space on the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) in Manhattan. For the time being, Hirsch said, “we will work from home.”

On the other hand, she said, the lack of federal money will also allow the network the freedom to do more advocacy work for runaway and homeless youth. (Federal funds can’t be used for such advocacy.)

• The M.I.N.K. Network, based in Lenexa, Kan., was the last to be established, about 15 years ago, said Jackson, who served as executive consultant.

“For a long time, it was a board of directors, no staff and all volunteers,” Jackson said. The network is returning to that. She said the network will continue to provide training. Instead of major three-day conferences, it will run one-day regional training sessions, using some volunteers but also charging fees and paying consultants. The agency received $175,000 to run the regional network last year.

• The Northwest Network for Youth has decided to focus on serving state youth networks, which also address juvenile justice and foster care, because some of those networks have state funding This will allow the network to continue its work, although with a shifted focus.

 

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