Youth Service was chartered in 1951 as a charitable agency for the provision of facility-based group care, foster care and counseling. YSI resulted from the merger of Bethesda Children’s Christian Home of Chestnut Hill and Church Mission of Help. Adolescents and their families were the primary population served, on a nonsectarian, interracial basis.
Between 1951 and 1970, the agency grew to five group homes and a substantive foster care service. Both programs served mostly adolescent girls, which was unusual at the time. Dorothy Fritz served as the first executive director from 1951 to 1972, when Theodore Levine became executive director.
A number of agencies merged with YSI during the early years. The Foulke and Long Institute joined YSI in 1961, Sunnycrest Farm for Boys in 1971, Youth Emergency Service in 1980, and Florence Crittenton Service of Philadelphia in 1981. The ABC Child Development Center and G.R.I.T. (Girl Renovators in Training) became part of YSI in 1990.
Placement services, including group homes and foster care, were the primary YSI programs in the early years and remain vital agency services today. In 1990, with private board fundraising, Youth Emergency Service was moved to a newly renovated building, where its emergency shelter for teens, runaway youth program and status offender program could flourish. Later a family preservation program was added to help teens reunify with family members, whenever possible.
During the 1970’s the agency added its first prevention services, working with parents at risk of abuse or neglect, in their own homes, to prevent placement of their children. In 1974 YSI piloted the city’s first SCOH program (Services to Children in their Own Homes) with foundation and United Way funding. SCOH became a major city service, funded by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Similarly, YSI piloted one of the city’s first family preservation programs, again with foundation support. Also in 1974, an apartment program for young mothers leaving placement was created, in order to keep these parents and children out of the DHS system. It later was absorbed by SCOH.
YSI prevention services were expanded in the late 1980’s and 1990’s to include more community-based programs. Sunnycrest child abuse prevention program was created in 1987, again with foundation support, to serve pregnant women, young mothers, and their children, newborns to five years old. Through home visiting, parenting groups, case management services and assistance with medical appointments, the program helped parents learn appropriate skills, so that their children remain healthy and are raised in a supportive, non-abusive environment.
In 1990 YSI introduced the crisis nursery model to Philadelphia with the inception of the Sally Watson Center in Germantown. The program was developed as a child abuse prevention demonstration project at the request of the State of Pennsylvania. It is one of only two programs state-wide where preschool children, whose parents are experiencing a crisis and need respite care for their children, can stay days or overnight at no cost to the parents. In 1995 a second crisis nursery program, Baring House, was developed in West Philadelphia. In 2000 YSI received the first annual Children’s Crusader Award from the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, for the crisis nursery program.
Theodore Levine, who had been executive director for nearly 20 years, resigned in 1992 to become Commissioner for the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Laurien Ward, associate director, who had extensive experience in Philadelphia child welfare and family services, replaced him.
In 1995 the City of Philadelphia created family centers in some of the city’s most needy neighborhoods, in order to bring services, especially child abuse prevention programs, closer to families. Due to Sunnycrest’s reputation working with parents in Mantua, YSI was chosen to be the provider agency for the Mantua Family Center in Morton McMichael School. The family center programs expanded to include, in addition to parenting programs, after school and summer camp activities, preteen groups, as well as case management and food programs and an advocacy program to help parents leaving welfare.
The city further developed its concept of regional, neighborhood-based social services, when it created truancy courts in 1999. YSI was asked to staff the truancy court at West Philadelphia High School. Later the YSI truancy department added the courts at Overbrook and University City High Schools, as well as various prevention programs. CASA (Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse) START began as a two year intervention program for 15 students at the Barry School. CASA targeted children at risk of substance abuse and delinquency based on identified risk factors.
In 2000 YSI helped introduce the Healthy Families America model of child abuse prevention to Pennsylvania, renaming it the Philadelphia Regional Healthy Families Initiative. This program worked with first time parents who were at risk of abuse or neglect. Services begin right after delivery in the hospital.
In 2001 YSI celebrated its 50th anniversary. Events included a Mantua community forum, a luncheon with representatives of city and private agencies and a press conference with city officials and a reunion for former YSI clients and staff.
Two new programs were added in 2002 – a delinquency prevention program in collaboration with a local community center, and a parent truancy officer program. Family Service of Philadelphia affiliated with YSI in 2003 and YSI created the FSP Training Program in its honor.
In 2003 YSI began two additional family based programs, diversion case management, designed to maintain children safely at home and prevent the family from entering the formal child welfare system. One diversion program served families in the North West part of Philadelphia and a second provided a similar and more intense service to families in West Philadelphia that had a young child at risk of harm.
As the city’s focus on prevention and safety became pervasive in the delivery of services, YSI competed for and was awarded a health department program in July, 2004, Services to Assist Families to Excel (SAFE) that offered new parents at risk for poor health outcomes an opportunity to have the support of a home visitor. YSI and three other providers served families in zip codes reflecting the most risk of unhealthy outcomes for newborns. State funding challenges led to the reduction of this program in August, 2008.
2004 brought about a change in leadership at YSI when Laurie Ward tendered her resignation. Gwendolyn Bailey, previously YSI’s assistant director, assumed leadership of the agency in December 2004 and continues to the present time.
Sunnycrest Family Support Center had several program changes but continues to have healthy parenting as its core concept. Parenting classes began through the Parenting Collaborative in 2002 and continue today. The parenting curriculum has also been offered to neighborhood shelters for mothers and fathers. Sunnycrest is the center for a new YSI program, Alternate Response System (ARS), providing time limited home based case management to families whose children can safely remain at home.
Programming offered at Youth Emergency Service expanded in 2007 with the addition of the federally funded Street Outreach program that meets at risk youth in the places they frequent to educate them about safe alternatives. In the prior year YES became the first National Safe Place site in the Philadelphia area. Safe Place is an initiative that also focuses on getting information to at risk teens in the communities they live and socialize in by connecting to neighborhood recreation centers and businesses.
In January, 2009 YSI was awarded a contract by the Department of Human Service to provide In Home Protective Services (IHPS) for families in designated zip code areas of Philadelphia. Families receiving IHPS have safety concerns for one or more of their children and have strong possibility of eliminating these threats with the help of a case manager. SCOH and Family Preservation ended in June, 2009. IHPS and Diversion Case Management have taken on several iterations of delivering services to families in their homes. Currently YSI offers Family Empowerment Services (FES) which offers a voluntary, home based case management service to families in need.
YSI is one of the family of agencies of The National Crittenton Foundation, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Crittenton provides national advocacy for critical issues impacting young women and their families, marketing, program development and the talent and expertise of peer agencies across the country.
YSI is a partner with the Promise Zone efforts in West Philadelphia and, more specifically, with the efforts to improve outcomes for early learners through the West Philadelphia Early Childhood Education (WPECE) initiative.
As the child welfare landscape changed in 2012 resulting from massive system reform efforts, YSI continued to be a well respected partner in this very important work. YSI continued contractual relationships with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS), Delaware County Children and Youth and all of the Community Umbrella Agencies (CUAs) in Philadelphia for shelter services and continues to be a leading prevention service provider for DHS.
To this day, YSI continues its more than 67 year history of strong partnerships with the city, private agencies and the community to provide placement, prevention and community based services to keep Philadelphia’s children safe from abuse and neglect.