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New Funding Model Means Access To Group Homes Without Courts

Teton Youth and Family Services

The Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS) has changed the way it funds youth group homes in the hopes of expanding young peoples' access to care.

Group homes provide a structured living environment for troubled kids who need extra mental and emotional support, while allowing them to maintain contact with their family, community and school.

Previously, DFS paid a per diem rate for kids placed at group homes by judges. The shift in how the state funds the facilities will allow group homes to serve children who demonstrate a need without involving the judicial system.

Sarah Cavallaro from Teton Youth and Family Services said her organization along with the Wyoming Youth Services Association advocated for the change.

"What was happening is we were seeing kids not access care that we knew needed help," said Cavallaro. "And it was frequent enough across the state that we wanted to work with the Department of Family Services to fix the system."

Now group homes can elect to receive a block grant in lieu of the per diem payment. Cavallaro said Teton Youth and Family Services was the first organization to sign a contract under the new funding model because they were eager to expand access to care.

"We'd have families call us and say, 'Well, I don't really want to go to the Department of Family Services. I don't want to go through the courts. But my kid really needs help.'" Cavallaro said parents don't want to relinquish custody of their children to access group homes. "And I heard those stories time and time again. And I think it just highlighted a blind spot in the system."

DFS Director Korin Schmidt said the group home block grant model is a part of an effort to incentivize a shift in focus to more community based services and "as a way to prevent kids coming further into custody."

Cavallaro expects most group homes across the state to shift over to the block grant model in the coming months.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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