STARS helps area youths

Since 2004, the STARS program has been helping area adolescents combat substance abuse problems.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescent Recovery and Success is designed to meet the needs of males and females ages 12 to 18 with such disorders.

The challenges these youths face are many, according to Andrea Jondle, services supervisor.

“Substance abuse has become a part of their life,” Jondle said. “But what we typically find is that underlying issues are usually home-based. Recovering environment issues, maybe substance abuse issues within the home. Some of them have emotional issues or some sort of mental health concern. Some of them come with histories of trauma, sexual abuse and/or physical abuse. And substance abuse then becomes the coping mechanism.”

The program, originally with Youth Shelter Care and now with Community and Family Resources, is also a partner with the Fort Dodge Community School District.

“Our work with the school district in assisting them with substance abuse is related to concerns with their students,” Jondle said. “Maybe they violated a student conduct code or had a possession issue at school or came to school under the influence. The counseling center at the school will contact us to intervene.”

STARS, located at 430 N. Eighth St., is a 15-bed facility with an average capacity of 10 to 13 clients, both male and female. Though it is a 90-day program, the time its clients spend there can vary, Jondle said.

“We do make accommodations per client case. If a 30-day program is appropriate, we’ll do a 30-day program,” she said. “Some kids need to stay longer. They may be homeless, their families may be homeless. We can keep them up to 18 months, typically.”

She added, “We also provide outpatient services for those kids who need to have a place to come, even if it’s for time-out purposes or to get them out of a toxic home environment.”

According to Deb Brown, STARS treatment tech supervisor, the challenge for these youths is leaving the friends and settings where they feel safest.

“They feel like if I don’t have those friends, who am I going to have as friends,” Brown said. “Or they’ll say the typical ‘everybody uses so there isn’t anybody that’s sober in my school or in my town.'”

Among its services, STARS provides its clients with relapse prevention skills, life skills and early recovery planning. A school component assists adolescents who have fallen behind in their academics. Anger management skills and gender-specific programs such as relationship building are also offered.

The most important component, though, is family therapy, Jondle said.

“Oftentimes, there’s a misconception by the families that if the child is treated and sent back home they should be fixed,” she said. “But often it’s a family disease and should be addressed on a family basis.”

Another part of their clients’ treatment is reintegration into the community, Jondle said.

“We do a lot of community service to get them more involved in the community, not just for the community service, but for the socialization piece of being accepted by others,” she said. “A lot of times they feel judgment, and so when we get them involved in the community, working with people, it helps them to create relationships with people where that judgment is not present.”

While Jondle has seen the program help youths, relapse is possible.

“We do have many clients who do come back to us,” she said. “The most important thing is building a rapport with them so they feel comfortable acknowledging that there is hope and they can come back, and this is a safe place for them to come to without judgment.”

According to Jondle, the need is great for these services.

“There are only three adolescent treatment facilities in the state of Iowa,” she said. “And often times we turn our heads to the fact that they’re just having adolescent behavior, but from a developmental standpoint it’s important to intervene and provide them with other support, because often something else is going on.”