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Social workers: Legislators should fund program for at-risk youth
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Social workers: Legislators should fund program for at-risk youth

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This March, state lawmakers will decide the fate of vulnerable children and families across Wyoming as they vote on whether to defund the High Fidelity Wraparound program as part of a larger Department of Health budget cut.

The proposed budget cut would completely eliminate the Wraparound program, which is evidence-based, cost-effective, and provides critical help to some of our state’s most at-risk youth. It is a successful program in which Wyoming citizens help Wyoming families. Ending the community-based Wraparound program will mean fewer children have a clear path toward a healthy and productive life. In addition, this short-term budget cut will certainly cost the state more in the long run.

We are a group of Master’s of Social Work students graduating from the University of Wyoming this May, with plans to continue working in this state. We strongly urge all legislators to reconsider this budget cut.

The Wraparound program pays Wyoming citizens to support Wyoming families with children who are at risk of being hospitalized or placed in out-of-home facilities. These children may struggle with trauma, aggression, mental health issues, and self-harm. Extreme behaviors during intense times can be utterly overwhelming to the child and their family, and that is why we have Wraparound.

Wraparound provides specific interventions at critical steps in a family’s journey towards recovery and stability. As a successful program, it has become a well-regarded model for children’s mental health and recommended as a fiscally responsible strategy across the United States.

Without a program like Wraparound, children in times of crisis would be separated from their families, further traumatized, isolated, and less likely to successfully re-join their families. Children who do not receive needed help are more likely to struggle as adults with health issues, educational challenges, addiction, and even incarceration. Health, mental health, and legal challenges often result in much larger state expenditures through the Departments of Health, Corrections, and Family Services.

In treatment or hospitalized, and isolated from their families, children are at higher risk for suicide in a system designed to separate rather than integrate. Isolation from their families results in more challenges for families and children down the road as they attempt to reunify. In the absence of this program, families will not receive needed support to reduce stress and increase skills to address their child’s complex mental health concerns, maintain housing and provide for other basic needs.

Wraparound services are dramatically more cost-effective than the alternative — repeated hospitalization or institutionalization, which can cost upwards of $50,000 per child over a couple of months. This is money the state of Wyoming often pays to out-of-state providers because Wyoming lacks these facilities. Compare that with the approximate $15,000 a year that the Wraparound program spends on a child and their family which employs Wyoming citizens to bolster Wyoming families helping them to thrive in their communities.

Since 2015, Wraparound has provided comprehensive support services to more than 1,000 Wyoming families. In these five years, 95% of children provided with Wraparound services have remained in their homes. Some lawmakers may argue that this program has not reached all parts of the state, and, as a result, the program should be terminated. We would argue this is flawed reasoning, and rather than cut a successful, cost-effective program, it is in the state’s best financial interest to support the program’s spread.

In our state, the Wraparound program has decreased institutionalization costs and increased the capacity of Wyoming families to support and sustain themselves during trying times. Join us in expressing a commitment to the well-being of Wyoming families, the Wyoming economy, and say that a child’s well-being should not be dependent solely on their family’s wealth. The consequences are costly to individuals, families, and Wyoming as a whole.

If Wyoming values all residents and believes that our children and families are worthy of support during hard times, our legislators should save the Wraparound program from the proposed Department of Health budget cuts. As future social service professionals, it is programs like these that not only give us hope, but also keep us motivated to continue working in this state and call Wyoming home.

Mary Dilworth, MacKenzie Kew, Tiernan McIlwaine, Jill Moeller, and Jennifer Morris are all Master’s of Social Work students graduating from the University of Wyoming this May with plans to continue working across Wyoming.

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