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April 8, 2021 - 3:28pm

County youth bureau's Safe Harbour program tackles problem of human trafficking

With the City of Batavia deciding to contract with the Genesee Area Family YMCA for its youth services, an intermunicipal agreement with Genesee County to fund a shared youth bureau executive director has been terminated.

As a result, the Genesee County Youth Bureau has set sail for the Safe Harbour program – focusing its attention on a state-funded initiative that offers support services to youth who have been trafficked, exploited or are at risk.

“We have received a five-year grant through the New York State Office of Children and Family Services to administer its program in Genesee County,” said Chelsea Elliott, who is serving as the bureau’s deputy director while interviews are being held to find a full-time executive director. “Safe Harbour’s main purpose is to make the community and its youth aware of the problem of human trafficking.”

Elliott said the youth bureau has started a public relations campaign – putting up billboards, distributing brochures and contacting human services agencies to take part in their activities.

“It’s important to let people know what the red flags are; what to look for,” she said. “We hope that the young people in our community aren’t being trafficked, but are they able to be trafficked? Easily.”

She said in an age of social media, “everything is at kids’ fingertips.”

“We live between two big cities, so that doesn’t help our situation. So, we just want to make sure our community and youth are notified about human trafficking, and that we’re all keeping our eyes on the youth of our community – and focusing on keeping our youth safe,” she said.

In a related development, Elliott reported that the Genesee County Youth Bureau is on track to allocate financial support to six youth recreation programs and six other entities geared toward youth.

Other than the three programs run by the county youth bureau (Youth Court, Safe Harbour and Genesee Youth Lead), Genesee provides partial funding – anywhere from 5 to 50 percent of a program’s total budget – to organizations who apply for assistance.

“Genesee County is supported by OCFS, and from there our youth board decides how much to allocate to the various programs who request financial support,” said Elliott, who has coordinated Genesee County Youth Court for several years.

Recreation programs set to receive county funding through the OCFS for 2021 are Alexander, $3,414; City of Batavia, $12,000; Bergen, $1,200; Byron, $1,280; Gillam Grant, $2,650, and Pavilion, $1,000.

Elliott said Genesee County is continuing to support the Liberty Center for Youth afterschool and the summer recreation programs in the City of Batavia even though those services will be provided by the YMCA through its contract with the city.

“We have done that for a long time, and we will still do that as long as they apply for funding from us, and we have the money to allocate,” she said. “In the future, the Y will probably apply for funding.”

A chart of county youth funding to the various programs shows that the City of Batavia’s youth budget for 2021-22 is $197,136.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski said the $12,000 from the county (through OCFS) goes into the city’s general fund and indirectly goes toward youth programming.

“We’re happy to be able to continue to provide direct youth services to the youth of our community and we certainly appreciate the support of the Genesee County Youth Bureau and the Office of Children and Family Services,” Tabelski said.

In February, City Council voted to terminate the youth agreement with the county, a move that Tabelski said will save the city around $21,000 for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

On Wednesday, the county’s Ways & Means Committee voted to terminate it as well – sending the measure for a final vote by the full legislature at next Wednesday’s meeting.

Other activities to be funded by the county youth bureau through the OCFS are Genesee Youth Lead, $2,950; Genesee County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), $2,000; Genesee County Park, $6,550; Youth Bureau Outreach, $8,000; R2R (Ride to Recovery) Ministries, Inc., $2,500; United Way Backpack, $6,000.

In a related development, Kelly March of Batavia was appointed and Erin Martin, representing Darien, Corfu and Pembroke, was reappointed to the Genesee County Youth Board. Their terms will run through March 31, 2024.

Elliott said there is an opening for a youth representative on the 20-member panel.

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