ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Youth Crisis Center is in a crisis of their own.
The facility has been in St. George for close to 20 years. Until recently it was completely funded by the state. Legislators changed that in 2012, cutting the budget by about 25 percent, forcing administrators to turn to local governments and private organizations for additional funds.
“It’s an interesting boat to be in,” says crisis center director Tami Fullerton. “Because that’s something that we’d shy away from in the past.”
The cuts first came in the 2012 budget. Cities and counties gladly contributed to the center, thinking the state cut was just temporary, but in 2013 it happened again.
“[The state legislature] actually passed a bill,” says Fullerton. “SB 218, that said that funding for receiving centers and youth services should be a collaboration, and include private donations, local government.”
Many local governments have already committed to helping the center on an ongoing basis. St. George City set aside $30,000, Washington County set aside $20,000. But there are some, like Washington City, who say a public discussion is needed before committing to another ongoing expense.
“It just comes down to the decision of, is it something that we use,” says Washington City Council member Thad Seegmiller. “And is it a good cause that we should contribute some funding to.”
Washington City is holding a public hearing on August 14th to get feedback from residents.
The crisis center is primarily used by law enforcement as a place to bring youth in situations without parental supervision. It’s the only one of its kind in the county.
“If law enforcement picks up a kid for any reason, it could be that they’re a runaway, it could be that there’s a car accident, it could be anything that gets their attention and they don’t have someone to release that child to, this is where they come,” says Fullerton.
Without the additional funds, the center would be forced to close down at least one day a week, meaning those youth would have nowhere to go. Fullerton says they’re committed to keeping the doors open 24-7 and they have the support of police agencies.
“The youth crisis center has provided that option to law enforcement to do what is best for the family and the child given the appropriate circumstances,” says Washington City Police public information officer Ed Kantor. “There’s nothing else like it.”
For more information on the services youth centers provide, visit the Juvenile Justice Center’s website at www.jjs.utah.gov.