“In college, I studied criminal justice to be a probation officer but in the back of my mind, I also liked the idea of working with ‘troubled kids’ and the kids that tend to not make good choices at certain times. So, I started working with a program called the McHenry County Youth Service Bureau which provided behavioral health services including therapy, or school-based prevention groups. That transitioned to a full-time position when I graduated.”

“My job title was behavior specialist, and I would go into schools, typically junior high or high school, and I would do groups about once a week with nine to 10 kids.”

“If a student was being closed-minded about a topic, we would discuss things they needed to do to be open-minded. I was also contracted to do public speaking and training about bullying in the school districts and was leading a separate group as a therapeutic mentor to kids that were being victimized by bullies.”

“At one point MCYSB was flourishing. We had contracts with six or seven different schools and everything was going great.”

“And then budgets started drying up and that was kind of the proverbial beginning of the end.”

“For a long time, we were competing for a bunch of money in McHenry County, and the health board only had so much to go around. They’re still doing that to this day. They still have to shut down extremely important services because they just don’t have the funding to continue to provide them.”

“We were lucky to have very talented people in our organization that would do everything in their power to keep us afloat and providing services. They worked their tails off to make sure these kids and families could get the services they need, but eventually we needed another financial plan.”

“We had billed the state for about $3 or $4 million dollars’ worth of hours worked and services provided, but we were not getting any money back. We thought everyone in behavioral services was going to get laid off.”

“The only way we were going to survive was to partner with another agency.”

“So we secured the partnership with Pioneer Center, a larger non-profit which also provided a consortium of social services. Pioneer originally had four different departments for working with adults with disabilities or different needs, then when adding youth programming, we tried to create a one-stop shop for services.”

“In Pioneer’s case, federal funds dried up. At the same time, Illinois was going through their budget impasse which delayed payments further and reduced funds for the types of services we provided.”

“A contract for my groups, once a week for a year would run roughly $1,700 for a school. It says a lot about schools’ budgeting that they would choose to cut vital, reasonably priced programming.”

“So through Pioneer, I started doing more therapeutic mentoring programs and working with victims of bullies or kids that had been bullies themselves and helping them to change their thought processes. However, funding issues persisted and my program was going to be cut, so I looked for other positions, and was fortunate to find my current place in [Harvard Community Unit School District 50].”

“The administration and our superintendent saw the importance of providing these types of services to their students, so they compiled all needs they saw: one-on-one, group mentoring, conflict intervention and created a position for me to do my work full-time. To serve the masses, schools and service providers have got to get creative.”

“These are kids whose parents are in jail, or they’re having trouble with remote learning because they have to watch their three siblings while their parents are working. Their stories and needs would not get heard because in a lot of schools these kids don’t have anywhere to go. The need for social-emotional learning has gone through the roof, and that’s what makes what our superintendent did so extraordinary.”

“Last I checked, the Youth Services Building is being torn down, and I don’t know what agencies exist with therapeutic programming for the community or if Pioneer is doing school-based prevention.”

“I just know that, at one point, communities had access to a lot of great services, and I don’t think there’s access to that catalog of things that used to exist, so the loss of very important services persists.”

“It’s not fair to the families. It’s not fair to the people involved when services aren’t provided and the state doesn’t follow through with what they say they’re going to do and services have to be cut.”

“They don’t see the after-effect. I find it hard to believe that in their budgeting they can’t find money for some of the very important services that both kids and adults need.”

CJay Harmer
School behavior interventionist
Lakemoor, Illinois