Healthy Resource for Transitional Aged Youth
The time in your life between childhood and adulthood can be very challenging. Everyone expects you to be a grown up, but you may have no idea how to do that. Many young people in this age group also struggle with additional barriers including family dynamics, self-esteem, mental illness, even homelessness.
This time in life can be overwhelming for parents too who no longer know how to relate to their kids, and while county support services have long been available for families and children, programs specific to transition-aged youth (16-24), or TAY, are now a focus for the state.
Riverside County received a state grant to open three new TAY centers, one in each region: Riverside, Inland Empire, and the Coachella Valley. The first opened in La Quinta in June and is called Desert FLOW (Fun, Love, Opportunity and Wellness). The 13,000 sf space is like no other and built specifically for – and by – the needs and desires of the clients they serve. “In this process, we listened to the young people and what they wanted – and didn’t want,” said Mental Health Services Program Manager John Schwarzlose. There is no reception desk as clients felt that resembled too much of a clinic or doctor’s office. The large open rooms are very welcoming, and while the center is a one-stop-shop for programs and services, TAY are also welcome to simply drop by and hang out.
The concept is innovative and modeled after successful programs around the world with the primary difference being a lack of expectations and requirements. TAY come there voluntarily and are welcome to take part, or not, in any activity they may need that day. Instead of referring TAY to services and appointments they may not keep due to lack of transportation, interest, or just not remembering, the services come to the center. Staff members will even pick kids up and bring them there.
“We try to make it as inviting as possible and clients feel very much welcomed,” says Behavioral Health Services Supervisor Andreea Tomescu. “It is such a different approach than what has been done in the past. Clients can come in and they don’t have to commit to any services or programs; they can just hang out. Many do this for a couple of days and then start to get interested in the services we offer. We are meeting them where they are versus the other way around.”
The La Quinta center has twenty staff including a clinical therapist, psychiatrist, and nurse to offer traditional services, but the majority are TAY peer support specialists, a combination of consumer peers, those who have had similar life issues to their young clients, and family peers who have had family members in similar situations. “These folks can sit down with TAY and play a game of cards and it feels like ‘I am one of them,’” states Schwarzlose.
Programs offered include group and individual counseling, life skills classes, health and wellness, art, music and yoga. There is even a therapy dog named Bruno. Subjects covered in the life skills classes address real fears expressed by TAY, not those adults think they need. “I told my staff to ask the young people what really scares them and what they are struggling with,” says Tomescu. “It wasn’t how to do laundry or buy food, but how to file tax returns or open a bank account because those are the things they see parents struggling with.”
All three county centers will be based on the same structure and concept, but programs will be tailored to meet the specific needs of TAY in that region. In the Coachella Valley, there is special focus on cultural differences. “In some cultures, once children turn 16 they are considered part of the work force and education comes second,” says Tomescu. “We are trying to support them to figure out how to do both – work if they want to and to finish school or go on to college at the same time.”
Many high school teachers noted that a number of students in our valley struggle with gender identity, so the center hosted a National Coming-Out Day event which made a statement early on that this is a safe, welcoming and non-judgmental place for all.
A focus for all centers is mental health. “Lack of guidance can contribute to a hopeless feeling that might not be verbalized as such, but rather as silence or overwhelming depression,” states Tomescu, adding that high schools struggle with this aspect and often label it simply as depression or anxiety. “They need therapy, yes, but not all of it is mental. We help them identify barriers and find solutions. They need our help to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.”
There will also be a focus on first episode psychosis. The concept is that 70% of people with psychosis had their first episode between 14 and 25. Australia is considered a leader in this category. They intervene early with long-term treatment (18-24 months) and are having very positive outcomes. Representatives from that country will be coming to educate and train county staff on their program and will continue to work with the TAY centers for up to a year.
There is also support for TAY family members. Many parents don’t know what to do with their children at this age and are often fearful of watching their children making progress. “I can say, ‘Mom, you are not OK. Come in and let me give you the support that you need to realize how to let go of your child, and to be the supportive parent you need to be.’” If family members feel overwhelmed, they can call and say they want to come in; a family communication class is also offered on Tuesday to help parents learn to approach their young adults and to understand that different approaches may or may not work.
The La Quinta center already has over sixty TAY clients plus those who are simply dropping by and hanging out. They can provide services for up to 200 with clientele growing daily. “I really enjoy seeing these young people making progress and doing more than what they have seen in their small environment,” adds Tomescu. “We are connecting kids with whatever their needs are today; we are working to help them achieve their goals despite the problems they may have at this time in their life and trying to make a difference.”
Desert FLOW is located at 78-140 Calle Tampico in La Quinta. For more information call (760) 863.7970.