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A study commissioned by the town to examine the function and structure of Madison Youth & Family Services (MYFS), which finished up in January, found the town’s somewhat unique model of providing clinical services for young people has been extremely effective, cooperative, and efficient, with the ability to offer flexibility and take on growth going forward.
Launched right at the beginning of the pandemic, the study lauded MYFS for its ability to integrate programs into the community, its experienced staff, and structural relationship with the schools, with the study’s author Loretta Jay telling the Board of Selectmen (BOS) that she was “very impressed” overall.
“I live in Fairfield. I sent a note to our first selectwoman to say, ‘Hey, when we get to the budget season I want to talk about some of the things I learned in Madison,’” Jay said. “There are a lot of great things that are happening.”
The 65-page report aimed to “assess MYFS operations and the need for services in order to inform policy and funding decisions,” and explicitly didn’t measure how effective services were for clients, qualitatively or quantitatively.
The study also compared Madison’s department to youth services offered by four other towns, Glastonbury, Avon, Guilford, and Wilton, and found MYFS has been effective even in the face of steeply rising mental health issues seen in youth across the state, and the country.
“What we’ve been seeing pre-COVID has been extraordinary in terms of what our youth are going through. Since COVID, we are in a real crisis,” Jay said. “I think that Madison is very well-positioned to build upon its existing program and to be prepared to support its community.”
MYFS employs 13 staff members, 9 of whom are full-time. They handle around 150 “short-term interventions,” defined as any contact in-person or by phone where help or intervention is provided, per year.
Those numbers have remained steady, though according to the study, contacts within the actual school buildings had risen drastically before the pandemic.
MYFS also serves 102 outpatient clients, with that number having nearly doubled since 2010.
The other towns compared to Madison in the study were chosen based on their similarity in socioeconomic status and several other factors. These towns approach services in different ways, with Avon and Wilton offering limited or no direct clinical services, while Guilford and Glastobury do.
Wilton is actually eliminating some of its remaining counseling services during the pandemic, according to Jay, which she characterized as a problematic decision that was likely to have short- and long-term ramifications.
Both Avon and Wilton are planning to rely more heavily on private providers and organizations. Jay wrote in the report that Avon’s youth services bureau tried to eliminate its social worker presence in the school system, but “that proved to be a mistake that was quickly corrected.”
MYFS has clinicians in both Polson Middle School and Daniel Hand High School, and Jay wrote in the report that stakeholders—school administration, police officers, and clients—all benefit from this.
Jay lauded this as being both convenient and cost-effective, saying that similar services provided by the schools would be significantly more expensive.
“While the annual cost is approximately the same, the time you’re getting from the MYFS team in the schools is exponentially more than what you would get from a school team,” she said.
The study also found that administrators and other school-employed clinicians were grateful to have the MYFS staff in the building from a qualitative perspective.
Jay also evaluated the cost of outsourcing services as these other towns had tried. She found the cost of outpatient services was about $1,900 per client, and also that there was a dearth of qualified, local professionals to provide these services.
“There really was not a strong alternative,” Jay told the BOS. “When we look at what’s going on in Madison, the services are robust and well-integrated.”
This countered one worry Jay said she had taken into the study, which was that there might be redundancies and lack of efficiency in MYFS’s model, but a further examination dispelled that relatively quickly.
One recommendation or criticism that came out of the study relates to the physical space MYFS occupies. Jay called the building “a wonderful resource and asset,” but said it was “pretty obvious [MYFS] is in great need of space.”
“We’re all more effective and able to accomplish more with our time that we have when we have the resources we need, and included in those resources is space,” Jay said. “When clinicians are trying to schedule...they vie for space to meet with a client. Even with Zooming, they can’t even Zoom with telehealth if they don’t have their own private space.”
Selectman Bruce Wilson brought up school-avoidant students or those who had been separated from school by mental health services, which according to officials is handled by another program called Effective School Solutions, which contracts with the district. MYFS is not involved directly with that program, according to MYFS Director Scott Cochran.
With the very positive findings of the report, Cochran said MYFS grew from focusing on the needs of the town and its youth, and that he was committed to meeting the rapidly growing need for mental health services in Madison.
“That’s all we did. We rely [on] working with all of our partners, the partners that we have in the school system, our elected officials, Madison residents, all of our stakeholders,” he said. “The only smart thing we really did was we focused on the needs, and we worked to try to create our programs and create our services around those.”
Cochran also thanked former first selectman Tom Banisch for beginning to push for the study and current First Selectman Peggy Lyons for pushing it forward even during the pandemic.
“I’m going to be coming to [the town] with ideas and ways in which we want youth services to continue, and make the case for how we do it in the most cost-efficient way to the town,” Cochran added.
For more information on Madison Youth & Family Services, visit www.madisonct.org/812/Youth-Family-Services or call 203-245-5645.