Youth Villages' Lee Rone on the importance of youth and family in communities

Note: This is the sixth entry in our new weekly blog, "Beyond the Bio," where we ask MBQ Power Players to write a post of their choosing about their industry. This week, we have the second entry from our January/February Power Players category, Chief Operations Officers. Lee Rone, COO of Youth Villages,  shares why youth are so important to the family unity and the community. Last week, Richard McDuffie, COO of Dunavant Logistics, discussed the impact of technology on businessThe Power Players category in the November/December 2012 MBQ was Restaurateurs, and we had Kelly English, chef and owner of Restaurant Iris, sharing why he was drawn to the industryJosé Gutierrez of River Oaks Restaurant reflecting on 30 years in Memphis dining, Lauren Boggs McHugh of Huey's on growing up in the food industry, and Ben Smith of Tsunami talking about the "new normal." Check this space weekly for future installments of "Beyond the Bio."

Youth Villages provides mental health services to youth and families who are at very high risk, including many who are involved in the foster care or court systems. Youth Villages’ focus is on evidence-based practices, accountability, and measurable long-term results.

I joined Youth Villages in 1992 as a summer intern while completing the MBA program at Vanderbilt, and I returned in 1993 with the initial charge of completing a major market needs assessment. At the time, Youth Villages was a traditional nonprofit organization largely in the business of “raising kids” who came from difficult circumstances and had encountered the foster care, children’s mental health, or juvenile court systems.

In the summer 1993, I did personal interviews with more than 120 people in 20 counties in Tennessee, including judges, social workers, school officials, and mental health professionals, and the response was overwhelming. So many people I interviewed said that kids coming through the courts and the foster care system often go back to the same families, and subsequently the youth experience the same problems that got them into the system in the first place. Because there was no change in the family, youth could not maintain the gains they had made in out-of-home treatment. Youth were having problems at school and with the courts, experiencing chaotic home lives and dealing with serious mental health issues. What was needed was a way to go into the homes and work with families intensively over several months and create permanent change and long-term success.

We set out to find the best model in the nation for serving families and subsequently became the first provider in the nation to implement Multisystemic Therapy (MST), which at the time was literally one of the few models ever to show success with high-risk youth, through rigorous randomized, longitudinal clinical trials. The creators of the MST model at the Medical University of South Carolina were true scientists and researchers, and we were determined to implement the model exactly as designed.

Our program was so incredibly effective that we ultimately changed the focus of our entire organization. Instead of raising kids in residential programs, group homes, and foster homes, we changed our mission to making every effort whenever feasible to create permanent change within families and demonstrating long-term successful outcomes with the youth we serve. We developed a second intensive in-home program, called Intercept, to serve a wider range of children with different issues. We developed a continuum of services that allowed children to receive the most effective help in the least restrictive setting: usually their own home.

Over the past 19 years Youth Villages has served more than 25,000 youth and families through intensive in-home services and has one of the largest research centers in the nation in this field, in order to measure outcomes for tens of thousands of youth being served. Two years after discharging from Youth Villages, more than 80 percent of the youth served in our programs are still living successfully in their communities.

Our Evidentiary Family Restoration approach has spurred growth in the organization. We now serve thousands children and families each year in 66 locations in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Across the country, easily more than half a million children are involved with the foster care and mental health systems. More are involved in the juvenile justice system. To address these systems on a national scale, Youth Villages actively partners with states across the country as well as Congress to reshape their funding of services to better fit practices that achieve measurable long-term outcomes and to enact badly needed system reforms. Youth Villages is fortunate to have the support in this effort from some of the top philanthropists and foundations in Memphis and the nation. Going forward our focus continues to be partnering with states to help identify opportunities to provide better services at a lower cost while demonstrating long-term successful outcomes.


Power Player Bio: Lee Rone

Chief Operations Officer, Youth Villages. Bachelor of the Arts and Masters in Business Administration, Vanderbilt University. Conducted survey of West Tennessee children’s services needs which led to the development of Youth Villages’ intensive in-home services program in 1994. Has overseen the expansion of in-home services to 11 states and Washington, D.C. Led efforts to create a continuum of care. Harvard Business School examined Youth Villages’ expansion in a 2009 case study.

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