It was about a year and a half ago that Johnson County announced the conversion of its building in Olathe from detention to something more like transitional care for low-risk youths who have run afoul of the law.
But since then, policies and state law on incarcerations for teens have changed so fast that the Foundations program, as it was called, is already a thing of the past and the 33-bed facility at 920 W. Spruce St. is empty.
As a result, county corrections and mental health officials have teamed up to find a new use for that building that they say will relieve pressure on the mental health department and save the county about $450,000 a year.
Next week, county commissioners will consider signing off on the agreement to move youths from mental health’s Adolescent Center for Treatment at 301 N. Monroe St., Olathe, into the now-empty Youth and Family Services Center around the corner.
“We think this is a positive outcome,” said county corrections director Betsy Gillespie. “If we work together as a team we can do what’s best for taxpayers,” the kids and the community, she said.
The Youth and Family Services Center underwent light remodeling two years ago and opened in 2015 as a place for kids ages 14 to 19 who had behavior problems but were not in need of intensive mental health treatment. In some cases, these were kids who might have been released into their parent’s custody but couldn’t because of dysfunctional homes.
The facility was built in 2011 as a detention area for lower-risk kids so they could be separated from the youths in detention for more serious offenses. The remodeling involved mostly minor changes in wiring and storage as well as installation of washers and dryers.
When the changes were announced, corrections officials predicted a daily population of around 20 kids, eventually increasing to 25 in the co-ed center.
But the philosophy on how to keep kids from repeating their offenses kept changing. Last session the Kansas Legislature enacted a juvenile justice reform bill that favors community integration programs over detention.
As those changes became imminent, referrals to the Spruce Street facility dwindled, Gillespie said. The Foundations program stopped July 20, when the five kids remaining were released or placed elsewhere. One made the transition to independent living, another went on to another placement and the remaining three went to their homes, she said.
The Adolescent Treatment Center is licensed for 21 but often has a waiting list, she said. If the agreement is approved by the commission, nine youths could move into the Spruce Street building within the next month. It will be a co-ed facility, with the possibility of a daily population of 25 if increased licensing is approved.
The building will still house lower-risk youths, with the main difference being that not all of the mental health department’s juveniles will have been through the court system, Gillespie said.
The plan would not involve any cost to the county because it shuffles employees between the mental health and corrections department, she said.
Six employees from mental health would move over to fill already-vacant corrections department spots supervising youth at the center, and the medical and food costs would continue to come from the corrections budget.
Two corrections department case workers would become mental health employees to work with the additional youths due to the increase in beds. Gillespie emphasized that the treatment center would remain a mental health program.
Positions could then be eliminated from mental health, for a savings for that department. The move will mean empty space at the current Adolescent Treatment Center, and the county will have to assess what to do with that building, she said.