Counseling agency seeks additional funding for youth services | Top Stories

Although budgets for the Village of Scarsdale and Scarsdale School District have been passed for the 2022-23 fiscal year, the Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service has requested an additional $18,000 from each to further empower the Community Services Project for Young People (CYSP) to help Scarsdale students with their social-emotional well-being and mental health needs.

Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service (SFCS) Executive Director Jay Genova presented his case to the Scarsdale administration and school board in a private meeting on June 17 and addressed the village council on Tuesday July 12 during a working session devoted to his request.

The request to modify the budget of the previously submitted CYSP, a program that does not generate revenue and is divided equally between the village and the district, was “unusual”, said Genova, noting that “the drivers of this request follow in a way the state of affairs and the state of the world in which we find ourselves, in particular the difficulties of recruiting staff for the positions”.

Genova said the “challenge between industries” — for-profit and non-profit — plagues the social work and mental health profession when it comes to attracting and retaining long-term employees. Genova noted that social work/mental health work is historically the third lowest paid profession – journalism is also in the top three – despite the importance and positive impact the work can have on a community.

Many in the field — and others — left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, while others went into private practice where they could charge five or six times the hourly rate, while newcomers have higher salary expectations.

SFCS employees contribute 11% towards their health care, receive 5% of their salary in a 403B plan from the SFCS budget and have the option of purchasing life insurance. They also benefit from holidays and personal days.

Scarsdale administrator Karen Brew asked if the benefits were comparable to other organizations, but Genova said most have been swallowed up by larger organizations like the Mental Health Association of Westchester and Westchester Jewish Community Services since then. its beginnings in the field 30 years ago.

“We are one of the last independent non-profit family counseling agencies that remain intact and serve the community for which they were identified, and so making a comparison would be difficult as there aren’t many like us. that exist”, says Genoa.

Scarsdale Mayor Jane Veron said Westchester’s nonprofit board of directors, of which she is a member, is working on a wage and benefits benchmarking study because the information does not exist , and expects to have answers within the next six months.

Genova said the one-time increase would help SFCS become “more competitive” in the market and continue to offer the same services to students. Genova wants to be able to offer annual cost-of-living increases and reward employees with increments every three years they stay with the agency. Longtime employees he’s had in recent years stayed because they ‘loved’ the community and the work, but he said it was ‘not sustainable’ as an expectation of hiring in the future .

Genova estimated that the school district, which spent a significant amount in the last budget on mental health needs — $450,000 for two high school and middle school mental health workers — has hired social workers an additional $50,000. than what SFCS can pay, though he noted the district has hired professionals with 15 or more years of experience. While Genoa used to hire social workers with three to five years of experience, who then stay on average for nine years, this is no longer the case. He said he gets resumes from less experienced social workers who need more training and support and are more likely to change jobs sooner.

“This issue is complicated a bit by some decisions of the Scarsdale School District and their decisions to hire their own social work staff as district employees, which of course is their right and decision to do so. But the rates at which they are now recruiting and hiring these social workers are at much, much higher salaries than what we were offering, which further complicates our situation,” Genova said.

Genova said he was happy to save “about” $3,700 in lower-than-expected unemployment costs last year and, more importantly, to reimburse $24,619 each to the village and district for the positions. not filled during the last two contractual years.

“It is in good faith and in the spirit of partnership that we come before you today to offer you this credit as we did, but also now to respectfully request an increase,” Genova told the board. from the village.

SFCS’ overall budget is $1.3 million per year, and the agency conducts more than 5,000 counseling sessions per year. The initial request for the CYSP was $521,524 ($260,762 each from the village and school district). Genova’s request increases that amount to $556,000 ($278,250 each). That total drops to $253,631 each with the credit.

When asked by Brew if Genova had that conversation with the school district, Genova mentioned a June 17 meeting he had with Acting Superintendent of Schools Drew Patrick, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education and Services to students Eric Rauschenbach, an unspecified school board representative (Bob Klein), Deputy Mayor Randy Whitestone, and Village Superintendent Rob Cole in which the district gave “verbal agreement” to the raise.

“At our June 17 meeting, Drew and I indicated administrative support for a raise; recruiting and retaining high-quality youth outreach workers is a common interest,” Rauschenbach told the Inquirer on Thursday. “We have reviewed the amount budgeted for the Youth Services project since the June 17 meeting and there are sufficient funds budgeted to cover the increase that Jay discussed with the village. For context, the district budget cycle predates the village budget cycle, so we need to estimate the cost of the youth services project for the budget. Due to a period last year when there was a youth outreach worker, the current SFCS proposed budget has an appropriation for this period. This appropriation was not included in the district budget, so the cost of the youth services contract proposed under the budgeted amount includes the increase for staff. »

Rauschenbach noted that the school board discussed the request for additional resources on July 1 at the reorganization meeting. The board does not need to approve the additional amount, it just needs to approve the overall contract when it is complete. The current contract with SFCS ends on August 31.

The school board’s new president, Amber Yusuf, told the Inquirer that the district, village and SFCS are still evaluating the needs for the contract.

“Know that the board appreciates our relationship with SFCS and appreciates the important work of youth outreach workers who support our students,” Yusuf said. “We plan to discuss the contract with SFCS at an upcoming board meeting.”

Genova and the school district have been working to determine what the role of the new district social workers will be so that there is no duplication of services and both can provide as much as they can to students. District social workers will be responsible for the majority of the “compulsory advice” that comes from the Committee for Special Education. Genova said he’s pleased the district recognizes the need for more social workers “integrated into the school district’s infrastructure.”

Administrator Jonathan Lewis asked about Edgemont’s involvement in SFCS. Genova explained that between 2005 and 2012, when Genova moved away from SFCS, there was an attempt to replicate the program with Edgemont, which is in the town of Greenburgh. It was up to the school to cover the costs, and after two years Edgemont hired the social worker outright, so the partnership there no longer existed. However, Edgemont residents can use the agency through a “fee for counseling services.”

At Scarsdale, Genova said college kids in particular have been having a tough time lately because they’re less likely to be in control of their lives and aren’t as able to communicate in healthy ways.

“In my opinion or from my observations, I would say that the mental health crisis preceded the COVID crisis,” Genova said. “We were seeing fairly steady increases in requests for services both from the agency perspective, meaning those requesting counseling services, and through the Youth Services Project for probably at least two years before the pandemic. The factors causing this [caused that] are debatable, but we have certainly seen an increase in numbers. Also, what we saw primarily at the college level was an almost four-fold increase in the number of risk assessments that needed to be done. »

Risk assessments that were done for high school students were more likely to be the result of reporting sexual assault, Genova said.

The pandemic served as a “magnifying glass for an already growing problem” of mental health issues, Genova said, adding “we certainly saw a significant increase in the number of those feeling anxious or troubled and people struggling to stabilize everything. sense of personal security. or security. And so I looked at it as those who had low level anxiety now have modest level anxiety, those who had modest level anxiety now had high levels, and those who previously had high levels felt pretty out of control.

He continued: “The mental health crisis is real. I say this clearly and sincerely, and our challenge has certainly been to respond to the mental health crisis. »

Veron credited Genova with seeing the community go through “incredibly complicated times,” not just during the pandemic, but with unexpectedly high turnover. He “stabilized the ship” and was able to “focus on the needs of the community”.

“Mr. Genova is a key and vital member of the teams when it comes to our police, fire and ambulance, along with the school system,” Veron said. is to think proactively and not just reactively, and he’s been an incredibly vital and important resource for those conversations.”

Veron said she will contact the school district, but also wants to look at the longer-term needs of SFCS.

“The agency’s success is not just down to Jay and his staff, but a delicate balance between the schools and the village,” Whitestone said. “We have to figure out how to move forward on this basis so that we are fully united, but we recognize that there have been changes.”

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