Tuesday June 22, 2010

BENNINGTON -- A residential program known as 204 Depot that serves at risk youth is set to reopen next month in a revised form.

The 204 Depot program, named for its address in Bennington, had served as a long-term residential program for troubled boys, typically aged 14 to 18, since 1971. But the state Agency of Human Services, facing severe budget shortfalls, canceled contracts with the program, causing it to shut down in January. A short-term companion program, 206 Depot, located next door and also run by SEALL Inc., continued.

Now, SEALL is moving forward based on recommendations from the state with a hybrid program that combines the two programs. "This is going to kind of be like a mid-range program. Not only are we extending the beds, but we're also expanding the length of stabilization," said William Bryan, chairman of the SEALL board of directors.

Youth in the 204 Depot program previously were in the program for 10 to 20 months. The 206 Depot program was more of a "triage" program, however, with stays lasting days or weeks. The length of stays for kids in the new program will fall somewhere in between, Bryan said.

"Ideally, we're looking at a max maybe of 90 days, but that could be 180 or 45. We're not locked into the real short-term, but we're not the end place for these kids. They could go home, but if they need long-term care they would go somewhere else."

The 204 Depot program previously served as many as 12 youth at a time, while 206 Depot served five.


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Bryan said the new program will serve up to eight at a time. The 204 Depot facility is currently being renovated to create more bedrooms based on specifications suggested by the state.

"They're kind of the ones that said if you're going to have these kids for a little bit longer of a time we'd like them to have their own space," he said. "We anticipate the completion date probably at the end of next month."

The new program still leaves SEALL with a vacant building. Bryan said the group is "exploring some other options," including a program for an older population or perhaps a female program. However, Bryan said the group's expertise has been with male youths.

The new program will allow SEALL to hire some staff back. Ten employees -- nine full-time and one part-time -- were laid off earlier this year when the 204 Depot program shut down. The state rejected an educational component that was part of the previous program, however.

"We can't hire back our educator, but at least we can get a couple more staff back in there," he said.

Although SEALL will continue with a residential program, Bryan said he remains "apprehensive about what the future may hold." However, he said he is "confident that we will come up with something that will serve the community."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com