Referrals to Rifle’s Youth Zone increase, official says

An organization that serves an annual average of 85 Rifle youth impacted by various social, emotional and physical conflicts is seeing an increase in need for its services, an official said Wednesday.

Officials representing YouthZone, an advocacy program that serves communities in Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Rio Blanco counties, told Rifle City Council during a presentation that referrals have picked up due to new efforts made to enhance their services.

“We’re increasing the way that we interact with our families and our referral systems so that those pieces can be a little more digitized, accessible, electronic,” YouthZone Executive Director Jami Hayes said. “And as we do that, we are noticing our referrals — especially from schools — jumped from like zero to 40.”

“That tells us that the need was there, and all it took for us was to just shift a little bit,” she said.

In particular, Hayes said the increase in referrals is many times related to substance use, which makes up 40% of youth referrals.

When a child requires various intervention services, the court system, law enforcement, probation, school, parental or other services reach out to YouthZone.

Recently, YouthZone began waiving what are called school fees.

“When an incident happens during the day, the family is not charged for services,” Hayes said.

Airen Goodman, a Colorado Youth Detention Center Continuum coordinator, said YouthZone also helps kids who are arrested for felony-level offenses out of youth detention.

“We provide the pre-trial intervention and services while they’re going through the court system,” she said. “It’s really helpful for the families, because it can get pretty messy and confusing and intimidating at court, so they’ve been really effective.”

Mayor Barbara Clifton asked YouthZone officials about common crimes they see kids involved in.

“Driving without a license, no registration,” Goodman said. “But then there’s substances involved, too.”

Council member Sean Strode asked if YouthZone anticipates its rate for need in service increasing further over time.

“The highest-risk kids with the most needs, and the families that are struggling, the most I see is from Rifle. My highest caseload is always Rifle,” Goodman said. “We have a lot of repetitive kids that like to come back, but also it’s the highest risk place where kids are on displacement. Families are living in cars.”

In Garfield County, the average annual service cost to YouthZone is $2,000 per youth, which equates to $678,000. Of that total, the city of Rifle makes up $170,000.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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