Family Intervention: Youth Services of Tulsa


Best Practice | July 3, 2012

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Youth Services of Tulsa (YST), which is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a nonprofit agency that provides a continuum of diverse programs and services to youth ages 12-17 (and their families). YST provides 18 programs and services such as: a 24-hour emergency shelter for youth ages 12-17; street outreach; Safe Place; counseling services for youth and their families (which includes home-based and school-based counseling); transitional living; and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) support group. In addition to programs for youth ages 12-17, YST also has several programs focused on transitional age youth. Overall, YST provides services to youth ages 12-24.

YST delivers family intervention services such as family reunification and family connecting to support the strengthening of families for runaway and homeless youth, and those at-risk. During a family’s crisis, YST provides supports and services such as parenting skills training, information about adolescent development, referrals to other resources in the community, and individual and family counseling to reunify youth with their families. YST takes a strength-based, solution-focused approach when working with families. During family intervention work YST looks for opportunities to assist families with the problems and issues that led to a youth leaving the home. Conflict resolution techniques are explored and practiced in the safety of a counseling session.

When youth come to YST, they are greeted and offered something to eat and drink. The staff begins building trust with the youth and helping the youth feel safe. A psycho-social interview is conducted and a living skills assessment such as Ansell-Casey is used. The Ansell-Casey assessment looks at the behaviors and skills of a youth in areas such as relationships, connections to caring adults, and daily living activities. The assessment helps to determine the current functioning level of the youth and areas of need for family intervention. A plan is developed for each youth which outlines the youth’s goals and options, such as being reunified with his/her family, or being connected to the family when physical reunification is not an option. Youth are encouraged to engage in case management so they can be a part of the decision-making process as it relates to family intervention.

Many times families call YST for assistance with a crisis before a youth has left the home. When there has not been an incident of abuse and neglect, YST attempts to link the family with counseling services. If the counselor assesses that the youth may benefit from the shelter or transitional living program (TLP), then a referral is made. Furthermore, if a youth does access a program for respite, the staff continues to work with the family to help them to gain skills and identify resources for a successful reunification. Appointments are provided the same week they are requested by a family, and take place in the community. The family counseling program is not bound by a third-party-payer, which reduces barriers that YST might otherwise face in providing services. Because it has no pre-approval process, a diagnosis is not needed to engage a family in services, which are provided on a sliding scale or free if a family cannot afford to pay.

When reunification is not possible, YST employs family connecting strategies to help the youth maintain positive relationships with his/her family, if it meets the needs of the youth. While a youth is away from the home and at the shelter it is important to provide opportunities for the family to be engaged. This can be done through dinners, week-end passes for the youth to go home, families attending events or family members being a part of a support team on a specific task such as a youth learning how to drive or learning how to cook.

YST engages the entire family in the counseling program, which is designed to resolve the issue that led to the youth being ejected from the home via runaway or throw away episodes. Families usually realize and understand that the issues they are facing are not unlike those of other families, once YST normalizes their experiences. Many times those experiences have to do with a youth seeking greater independence or a youth’s need for more protection and support from his or her family. Counselors work with families to find ways to respond to the needs of the youth and help the youth to better communicate his/her needs. Typically families participate in 8-10 sessions. Family counseling work is conducted by Master’s level staff. Some of the counselors are interns from various university programs, such as Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) and Masters of Social Work (MSW).

Older Youth

Older youth (over the age of 18) are provided family intervention services if the youth desires. If so, the youth is referred to counseling. Typically, family reunification is not the goal of older youth or their families. However, YST works with the youth and family to build a foundation for future relationships. YST tries to provide youth with opportunities for permanent connections, which can be with family, staff, or someone that the youth has identified.


There are some challenges in working to reunify lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth with their families. On occasion, youth “come out” to their families, and are then cut off from them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. YST has formed a partnership with local LGBTQ community providers such as the Equality Center and school-based groups such as Gay/Straight Alliance to help youth and their families who may need additional education on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the impact of a family’s non-acceptance. The goal is to build the relationship between the youth and the family, with the hope of future opportunities for reunification or to maintain family connections.

Aftercare Services

YST provides aftercare services to youth and families after a youth has been discharged from the program. YST remains in contact with the youth and the family to make sure that they are doing well. Through aftercare YST provides additional skill building services including: information on budgeting and interpersonal and relationship skills; counseling; education; and employment-related help on things like writing a resume or obtaining a GED. These and other services help the youth make a successful, independent transition home and/or into the community.


There are multiple entry points in which youth access family intervention services in each community where YST provides services. Youth are referred to the program in various ways, including through: the street outreach program; self-referral; their families who contact YST when they are in crisis and in need of counseling and/or respite services; community programs; foster care; law enforcement, or one of the 120 sites of the national Safe Place1 program, to name a few. YST has 5 satellite offices across Tulsa County, providing easy access and convenience for youth and families.


Funding for family intervention services and other supporting programs is a blend of support from Federal, State, and local governments, private foundations, and fundraising activities.


In FY 2010, Youth Services of Tulsa provided shelter for 535 youth. The Safe Place program assisted 565 youth in crisis to get the help they needed. 98% of youth transitioned to a safe place which included reunification, a transitional living program, Job Corps, or another program. The other 2% were placed into the hands of child welfare or the youth ran away. YST is beginning to look at ways of capturing the number of youth who return home versus those who transition to other community programs.