For staff in The Chase Home’s Seacoast Community Diversion Program (SCDP), which serves at-risk youth and families in the community, flexibility has become a guiding principle in their service delivery model.
“COVID-19 has impacted not just what we do, but how we do it,” said Cory Towne-Kerr, SCDP coordinator.
Even the act of communicating with families presents somewhat of a challenge.
“A big part of the program before was our ability to have a physical presence in the lives of our youth and their families, whereas we now connect over the phone or through video conferencing,” she said. “We have just recently begun to offer meetings in person outdoors while following social distancing guidelines, but the process is challenging.”
According to Meme Wheeler, executive director of The Chase Home, technology constraints are another concern for staff and families.
“Just getting paperwork signed can be challenging,” she said. “The concern I think all of us have is what will the long-term impact be from COVID-19? What don’t we know now about the struggles of those we serve? What will things look like in 3 months if we experience another surge with COVID-19?”
Working with youth who have begun to struggle in the community across several areas, SCDP receives referrals from SAU’s 16, 14 and 52 and police departments in Stratham, Exeter, Portsmouth, Newington, Epping and Hampton.
Examples of youth served in the program fall into two tracks. In the first track, youth are beginning to abuse substances, get into trouble at school, skip classes, or exhibit self-harming behaviors, including attempted suicide. In the second track, youth have been charged with crimes and are in eminent danger of entering the juvenile justice system.
“These are complex cases that require services customized to address specific needs,” said Towne-Kerr.
Services in the program range from a full evaluation by a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) to one-on-one sessions with staff. These sessions focus on drug counseling, anger management, coping, decision-making, healthy relationships and others.
“SCDP is unique because it is the only diversion program in the state out of 17 programs that embeds teen suicide prevention services and screening into it,” Wheeler added.
In looking to the future, Towne-Keer expressed optimism that the program can again operate at full capacity, acknowledging that referrals “essentially stopped” for a few months.
“I think everyone that works with people of any age in need is adjusting to a new way of doing their jobs,” she said. “In this challenging environment, I don’t think Chase Home is alone in mandating ‘flexibility’ as a way to get things done.”
SCDP is funded by Exeter Hospital, which spearheads a multi-year initiative to prevent youth suicide on the Seacoast. Additional major funders of SCDP include Kennebunk Savings.
Founded in 1877, The Chase Home in Portsmouth serves at-risk youth annually statewide through prevention, early intervention, residential and community-based programs. Some youth are served in the community while others live at The Chase Home.
To learn more about SCDP or Chase Home, visit chasehome.org.