BRATTLEBORO—In response to the opioid epidemic, Youth Services has added substance abuse treatment and counseling to its 19 other Windham County programs serving young people and families, with appointments at either its Bellows Falls or Brattleboro facility.
Recognizing that substance use disorders can be chronic problems, with both common and unique challenges for each person, is key to the approach of Heather Smith, the agency’s new director of clinical services.
“We focus on the belief that each individual is a person of worth and dignity and is capable of recovery,” Smith said in a news release. “Realistic hope is central to our treatment philosophy. By increasing our clients’ awareness of risks associated with substances, we can support positive and sustainable change in their lives.”
Smith described some of the young people who come through Youth Services’ doors as knowing what it’s like to live in a family where a parent struggles with addiction — or knowing the peer pressure of friends experimenting with alcohol or prescription pills who ask them to join in.
In other scenarios, individuals may be struggling with anxiety or depression and turn to various substances to self-medicate instead of seeking counseling and support. These individual are then at risk of developing a substance use disorder in addition to the original anxiety or depression, she explained.
“Regardless of where someone is on their journey, we can meet them where they are and work with them to achieve their goals,” Smith said.
Nearly half of all Youth Services clients — whether they are in Youth Services’ court diversion, shelter housing, or receiving services as they age out of the foster care system — have substance abuse issues to varying degrees, according to agency intake data.
Most of the individuals Smith sees are referred internally by Youth Services case managers, but that is expanding now to include referrals from community partners, such as West River Valley Thrives and Turning Point, Smith said, reflecting the shortage of out-patient substance abuse treatment options in the region.
Engaging youth out in the community, rather than depending on them finding Smith, is also part of the strategy, according to Youth Services’ Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin.
Bradbury-Carlin described Smith’s hiring — made possible by a combination of grant funding and donations from concerned community members — as allowing Youth Services to provide consultation and clinical services designed to decrease hazardous use, promote abstinence, assist in recovery and problem resolution, improve functioning, and help the young people they serve develop a healthier lifestyle overall.
Smith is a licensed clinical mental health counselor with 10 years of experience working with young people in various settings including residential care, rehabilitation, corrections and college and community care. Most recently she worked for four years as a behavioral health specialist for The Community Health Team.