Saturday, February 5, 2011

MU RESEARCH: May spell bad news for $600,000 troubled youth shelter

COLUMBIA, 2/5/11  (Beat Byte) --  At a proposed $600,000, a 5-unit troubled youth shelter planned by Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) across from Columbia's Hickman High School may be a new poster child for ultra-costly care in a time of diminishing budgets, rising debts, and healthcare reform.    
The CMCA shelter isn't only exorbitantly priced -- it's externally situated, apart from families and households. According to a new Mizzou study, families and households must be a critical part of helping children and adolescents with mental health problems.  The study did not analyze the CMCA shelter directly, but it does suggest that better and more cost-effective ways exist to help kids in trouble. 
So-called "multisystemic therapy (MST)" is more effective in the lives of troubled youth and costs less, says the approach's pioneer, MU psychological sciences professor Charles Borduin.  MST takes place largely in the home, school, and community, working because "the therapy takes into account different environmental causes for behavior, and as a result, participants are half as likely to be arrested again," Borduin explains.  His findings were recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology.  
A shelter may temporarily remove a young person from a troubled environment, but unless it operates under different paradigms, it's unlikely to get at problematic roots.  "The sad part is that the vast majority of current treatments are not effective, while being very costly," Borduin explained. 
"Most current treatments are based on the idea that the problem lies entirely within the child," Borduin said. "If you look at the scientific literature, it's not about the individual kid -- it's about family problems, low household warmth, high levels of conflict, abuse, neglect, involvement with the wrong group of kids, school problems, and so on."
With the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and graduate student Stephanie Klietz, Borduin analyzed 176 juvenile offenders, looking at the cost of re-arrest and  law enforcement.  MST cost nearly 10 times less than the current system, much of which consists of off-site housing like correctional facilities. 

"We wanted to know, what does MST save taxpayers and crime victims?" Borduin asked.  "We have demonstrated that the net cumulative benefit of providing MST to a single juvenile offender resulted in a savings of $75,110 to $199,374 throughout the course of almost 14 years," he said. "To put it another way, $1 spent on MST provides $9.51 to $23.59 in savings to taxpayers and crime victims in the years ahead." 
The re-arrest statistics and cost reductions are so significant that Norway has adopted the practice entirely, while in the U.S., Ohio, Colorado, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are reforming their systems, Borduin said.

How will the new CMCA shelter deal with family problems, low household warmth, conflict, abuse, and neglect?  Will shelter personnel use current treatments, or look to the latest research for better approaches?  In local presentations about the shelter, CMCA officials haven't addressed these issues, which raises the question:  With $600,000 of mostly public funding, don't we have a right to know? 

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