In 1979, newspaper front pages were full of stories of juvenile crime, teen pregnancy and other woes linked to young people. At the same time, I was freshly minted graduate from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work and intent on creating an innovative response to reduce problem behaviors with our youth. At the young age of 31, I became the executive director of what is now called Community Youth Services.
CYS was a micro nonprofit with one program, Juvenile Diversion, four staff, a budget of $80,000 and a terrific board of directors that included Washington state Supreme Court Chief Justice James Dolliver, now deceased, and the current Lacey city councilman, Virgil Clarkson, and Tom McPhee, now a retired Superior Court judge.
My directive was to do what I could to provide new opportunities for our community’s high-risk youths. I applied for grants, contracts and sought private contributions to increase our services. The first new service was employment and training, then our shelter program Haven House, followed by therapeutic foster care, then housing for homeless young adults.
Flash forward to 2015, and Community Youth Services has grown to become one of the largest and most comprehensive child welfare nonprofit organizations between Vancouver, B.C., and San Francisco. CYS has a staff of 115, operates with an $8 million budget and manages 22 programs for 4,500 children, youths and families. CYS also owns two major commercial buildings that house its services.
One innovative aspect of Community Youth Services is that it is doing the work of four or five different nonprofits in any other community. That means that there is only one executive director, one finance director, one HR director, one development director, one board of directors, one audit, one insurance policy and basically one of everything. Having one singular service delivery platform creates an efficient and cost-effective organizational design. We found that when administrative costs are consolidated, administrative and service delivery systems work more efficiently. CYS maintains a modest 14 percent administrative overhead and the more volume, the lower the administrative cost, which means even more money goes to direct services.
But, best of all, the real winners are the youths that CYS serves. When a youth enters into Haven House, the region’s only teen shelter, if caseworkers conclude that the family is not safe for the teen to return, they may place the youth in the CYS foster care program. The goal of foster care is to manage the child’s care and work with the biological family so as to safely return the child home or to a relative.
For those older teens that are unable to return home, remaining in foster care is often the safest option. After the teen becomes emancipated, caseworkers may refer the youth to CYS’ transitional housing program, where they learn to live independently. Once in housing, they may participate in CYS job placement service or attend school while receiving ongoing counseling and support.
Another point of entry may be Rosie’s Place, a day resource center for street impacted youths and young adults. Rosie’s staff gently guide our community’s lost youth to essential services that stabilize and provide hope and opportunity for a brighter future. These services may be emergency shelter, behavioral health services, GED help, high school, jobs or other longer term housing. A youth may enter many services without leaving the building. It’s what we call in the social services jargon “a seamless service delivery system” or “no wrong door.”
While funding sources often decry the proliferation of nonprofit agencies, they can do more to support the type of service consolidation that CYS offers. Foundations and other funders often impose limits on the frequency that agencies may apply for grants or other funding, regardless if the applicant is a micro nonprofit or a sophisticated service delivery network. One application per year means limited opportunity for large service delivery systems such as Community Youth Services and the youths that the agency serves.
I have traveled the country reviewing nonprofit organizations for accreditation and federal grant compliance and have only seen one other integrated care agency that matches what CYS offers and that is Portland’s Outside In. The model that CYS has created shows great promise for positioning itself with the needed talent, service delivery options, research and overall infrastructure to effectively intervene and change problem behavior while containing costs.
It’s been my pleasure to have served the community for these thirty six years while serving a total of 65,000 children, youth and families. Thank you to my board of directors, our wonderfully talented and dedicated staff, funders, donors, volunteers and friends.
Charles Shelan retired July 31 from CYS after 36 years of service and is a member of The Olympian’s 2015 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at email@example.com.