Last week, Indiana leaders unveiled a plan to combat drug abuse. Part of the plan includes expanding or building programs such as Youth First. 

Brad Byrd sits down with Parri Black, the president and CEO for Youth First, Inc., to discuss the organizations effort to prevent substance abuse and strengthen family relationships.

Transcription of interview:

Brad Byrd: “Last week, Indiana leaders unveiled a plan to combat drug abuse. Part of the plan includes expanding or building programs such as Youth First. I’m joined tonight by Parri Black. She is the president and CEO of Youth First, Inc. Parri, we are specifically talking about I guess using Youth First as a modeling of sorts to either build programs throughout Indiana or expand Youth First right here in southwest Indiana. With that being said, you’ve been involved with some form or another for years. Simple question: are we winning?”

Parri Black: “Well, it depends on what metric you’re looking at. Obviously, we’ve got an opioid issue, a heroin issue across the country and right here at home. But if you look at the data around young people and what they’re using and how much they’re using, the prevalence has actually gone down the last 19 years or so that Youth First has been measuring it. So, in some categories, we are I think winning if winning means delaying the use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and other drugs. But the question is how do we keep up the fight and we can’t stop because we know when there have been pauses in evidence space efforts, the abuse goes back up.”

Brad Byrd: “And of course education and awareness or so very important in this. But you were telling me in the newsroom that you’ve got more than 2,000 young people that Youth First is serving in the greater Evansville region, more than 2,000.”

Parri Black: “That’s right and about 2,200 young people that need extra support, social and emotional support to be successful at school and in their lives.”

Brad Byrd: “And how do you give them that support?”

Parri Black: “Youth First places master level social workers in schools, and they’re equipped with a tool kit of strategies, things that can help a person with anxiety, depression, anger management, grief, bullying, self-esteem issues, the whole gamma kind of things that keep a child back from being able to be at their best from living out their potential. And all of those issues are risk factors for substance abuse as well as other behaviors including suicide.”

Brad Byrd: “And how has the challenge of what you deal with on a day-to-day basis, how has that affected your staff? The people power that is involved in this, the governor here, state officials say there’s a possibility Youth First could become and overall program throughout several regions in the state. But your office is already bursting at the seams.”

Parri Black: “Well, we are. We have grown over the years. We’re a locally founded home grown foundation that set about a task about using the best practices and prevention bringing them right here to this region, and our data shows we are improving lives. We are strengthening young people and their families. We’re reducing the problems that they’re confronted with and helping them learn new skills so they can be successful in school and in life. And everywhere needs that kind of support. We’re continuingly receiving requests from school corporations. ‘How can we partner with Youth First.’ So, we have opportunities to grow. There’s no doubt there’s a need, and the recognition by the governor’s commission is that we need more of this around the state. So, Youth First is open to the opportunity for growth, but we have to do it in a way where it’s a real partnership with the schools and the communities.”

Brad Byrd: “I know you have some incredible numbers. We’ve talked about that. But let’s try to put a right here at home perhaps a human face on this, a personal story without violating confidentiality of families. But what would be a good personal story that you could share with us as far as someone being help when they first see that social worker in school?”

Parri Black: “Well, everyday our Youth First social workers in schools across our region are helping assisting young people and their parents and their teachers in negotiating through the process of whatever is going on in their lives and building skills. I think about a young man who faces a lot of challenges. He had Turrets Syndrome, he was bullied, he struggled getting along with peers. And a Youth First social worker came along aside him and became his coach basically, helped him negotiate social situations, helped him develop more self confidence, and these are all issues that can lead to substance abuse. Many young people are making a choice to use as a way to self medicate so to speak. So, this young man managed to get through high school although many people doubted that he would. He graduated from high school. He went on to study at USI, and last year he was announced the most outstanding sophomore at USI.”

Brad Byrd: “And that is a huge success story.”

Parri Black: “That is a huge success story, and he’s a great spokesperson for Youth First.”

Brad Byrd: “When you talk about young people, how young?”

Parri Black: “We are in K through 12 in some cases some school have pre-K. It’s important to start as young as possible especially putting support around young families. We even have a program that helps expectant parents prepare for the arrival of a child. And what’s most important in a family situation is for those two parents to be on the same page, and bring that child into a home that has as little conflict as possible because we know that conflict and challenges in their home life can direct how their life goes right through middle age and beyond. So, we want to get support around those young families as soon as possible.”

Brad Byrd: “Talking about parents, you know a young child who may have a mom and dad who are not using drugs, and if that young person decides to make some bad choices, if you intervene with strong parents there, that kid has a fighting chance. But what about the kids where their parents are so deeply involved in drugs, do they fall through the cracks or what can Youth First do for them?”

Parri Black: “Well, certainly we hope they don’t fall through the cracks. As soon as they are recognized as needing some extra support, if Youth First is in the schools that they are attending, we want to be apart of their lives. And the research shows that one caring adult in a child’s life can make all of the difference. That one caring adult hopefully is a parent. But when it can’t be a parent, we want it to be a Youth First social worker, a teacher, a pastor, an adult mentor. That’s what kids need. So, these Youth First social workers are specialized mentors. They happen to have a lot of mental health background, strategies, and understanding on how to take the more intensive issues and help kids overcome them.”

Brad Byrd: “Parri, thank you so much for joining us tonight talking about what Youth First does here in the Evansville area. Appreciate it, and it’s good to see you as always.”