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Wayne keeping the lines open

HONESDALE, PA — Wayne County officials are working to keep communications open between those dealing with drug, alcohol and sexual abuse issues and those in a position to help.

One of these avenues is a low-profile panel of 15 to 20 known as the System of Care (SOC). Its members: county officials and department heads, health professionals, parents and care consumers. They have been meeting regularly, several times each week, for the past three years.

Their goal is in the name, coordinating a system of care, according to Commissioner Wendell Kay. They openly discuss issues of all kinds and sizes to adjust care and improve things. “For example, we revamped all our waiting areas after finding that anti-abuse posters on the walls caused people to relive traumatic incidents,” he said.

Kay has an affinity for the social problems of youth. As a youthful attorney beginning a Wayne County practice in the 1980s, Kay was frequently named as court-appointed guardian for kids in trouble. “It was a lot different then. I think we had six social services caseworkers. Now we have 30,” he said.

“We’re trying to educate MDs, caseworkers, police and emergency medical technicians, so they will be able to provide trauma-informed care. At a Take Back the Night discussion, when they hear a 15-year-old girl describe her traumatic abuse by a stepdad, she becomes a person, rather than the legal ‘victim of abuse,’” he said. “We want to teach them to ask traumatized people, ‘What’s your experience?’ or ‘What happened to you?’ rather than ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Kay said.

The service personnel are frequently going to be dealing with “oppositional defiant” traumatized people who are defiant to all approaches, even to suggestions that they know are good for them. SOC works to instill greater understanding among aid workers of “why these people are the way they are,” Kay said.

How professionals address big addiction and domestic problems as well as detailed  issues and treatment all come to free-wheeling discussion at the table. Kay said all of these measures arise from a changing, better understanding of psychological and psychiatric problems. “It used to be, if you had cancer, you got treatment; if you had mental problems you were ‘a little crazy.’ Now both have an equal right to treatment.”

SOC began at the height of local opioid-related overdose deaths, and they have seen those numbers improve, while domestic-issue reports grow in number. There are many reasons for the latter, including more and better reporting of sexual abuse. But the issue has swollen costs in behavioral health administration. As Kay noted, “We take a kid from youth to transitional years, assist them in finding jobs and lodgings;” that’s a costly process.

No happy ending is guaranteed. “We keep talking and counseling,” Kay said.

The Wayne commissioners did not meet on their regular Thursday date last week but will resume their 10:30 a.m. scheduled gatherings again on Thursday, May 17.


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