By LEWIS DELAVAN
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — A pair of groups dedicated to improving the lives of troubled children have joined forces to offer new paths to serving neglected and abused youth.
The Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches group is using existing facilities more fully by offering counseling services to youth in the community provided by Methodist Family Health. Both agencies agree the partnership, which began about two years ago but was not disclosed publicly until this month, has benefited the youth. Continuity of treatment and greater opportunities for growth help each young person to move toward their potential, said Ranches CEO Mike Cumnock. The Ranches and Methodist are committed to guide troubled children toward maturity, he said.
"We don’t give up on kids," added Methodist Family Health CEO Andy Altom. "Once they come through our doors, they’re our kids."
Children sometimes need a fresh start at another Ranch, but moves can bring new problems. Cumnock said building trust between a child and a psychiatrist or counselors can be difficult.
The alliance allows the child to maintain the counseling relationship after a move, he said.
"The children have already been uprooted from families, and another upheaval would add to their challenges," Cumnock said. "It would be great if they had a healthy family to return to."
Methodist’s existing coverage of the state allows children to continue being treated by the same psychiatrist after moving from Amity to Mulberry, Mulberry to Searcy or Searcy to Amity. Unmet needs in the community will be met through the expansion, the officials said.
"Around the state, there are certain populations of children with needs that aren’t being met by any of us," said Cumnock.
The need for serving neglected youth outstrips the state’s capacity, Altom and Cumnock agree.
Some 65 youth live at permanent residential program at Ranches in Batesville, Amity and Mulberry, and others are served as outpatients.
"But we get six to eight requests per day for services," he said.
One building available for daytime counseling services is at the Mulberry Ranch. It would still be used for after-school tutoring, Cumnock said. He compared it to a church that wants to better use its space.
Methodist provides counseling, acute psychiatric care and other therapeutic services for 1,400 youth at 26 centers around the state.
Rural campuses offer special opportunities, Altom said.
"The kids can go hunting," he said. "They can get their driver’s license."
Children can also bond with horses.
The Ranches have served more than 1,000 children in its 35-year history, Cumnock said.
Methodist was founded as Arkansas Methodist Orphanage in 1899. It later became Arkansas Children’s Home and saw further expansion.