Youth Network on move

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A 115-year-old Charlotte nonprofit that serves troubled children is growing and adapting to cope with big changes in the way the state delivers mental-health services.

After a century of offering services in its own residential facilities, Alexander Youth Network over the past 10 years put a growing emphasis on community-based services to help keep children with emotional or behavioral problems in their own families and schools.

That shift anticipated current plans by the state to stop delivering services itself and instead farm them out to nonprofit and private agencies, says Craig Bass, president.

The goal, he says, is to create a one-stop shop that delivers a “seamless array” of services efficiently and puts an increasing emphasis on offering programs in locations where they are needed.

“We want to do more of our work in homes and in the schools, and keep kids out of our facilities,” he says.

After adding day treatment, in-home treatment and outpatient treatment over the past 10 years, the group has merged with three nonprofits in two years, including YouthNetwork this summer.

“Agencies in North Carolina are going to have to look at ways to combine to be successful in this environment,” Bass says. “Folks who are going to take over the service provision are going to have to become more sophisticated in our business practices.”

The idea, he says, is to gain economy of scale to offset the cost of investing in new business systems, technology and know-how needed to deliver more efficient community-based services.

YouthNetwork, for example, runs a crisis shelter serving 400 children a year, plus a group home and crisis phone line for young people ages 7 to 17 who are runaways, homeless, involved with the courts or facing other troubles.

The merger should double to 600 the number of children receiving services in homes or schools, Bass says.

And plans call for YouthNetwork to offer its community-based services in more locations.

Alexander Youth Network, formerly Alexander Children’s Center, serves 1,200 children a year, 70 percent of them through community-based programs. That is up from 50 percent two years ago, and should grow to 90 percent within five years, Bass said.

While government funds account for 90 percent of the organization’s budget, paying for projected growth will require raising more private dollars, and a campaign to support programs and expand the $4.5 million endowment is a “good possibility,” Bass says.

“We operate this organization as a business,” he says, “but the charitable support is what allows us to take advantages of the opportunities to grow, and it’s what allows us to absorb the changes in government policy and funding.”

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