By Bill Kirk
The Andover Townsman
---- — ANDOVER — The Board of Selectmen have approved paying for a social worker in the Youth Services department who will specialize in reaching out to young people and families dealing with addiction.
The board voted 3-1 last week in favor of asking Town Manager Reginald ‘Buzz’ Stapczynski to find $54,000 in the budget to pay for a program coordinator in Andover Youth Services.
The position had been cut from the budget originally proposed by Stapczynski and approved last week by selectmen.
But some board members had second thoughts, especially in the face of a spike in heroin overdoses and deaths in Andover and across the Merrimack Valley and the rest of the state.
“With all the difficulties we’ve had with heroin and the extra burden it puts on Andover Youth Services ... they (AYS staff) are drowning because of this extra effort,” said Selectman Brian Major, who led the effort to restore the position. “We need to figure out how to add that position back into the budget. This is critically important.”
The lone vote against the proposal came from newly elected Selectman Mary O’Donoghue. She argued that the budget had already been voted on and the position cut. She also felt that more study was needed before a decision could be made.
“We haven’t had a broader discussion of this important issue,” she said. “We need to get the right people in place at the right place. This is not a good idea at all.”
Stapczynski was also lukewarm to the idea.
“I’m not convinced we need someone to deal with heroin,” he said. “That’s a knee-jerk reaction. What I’m hearing, perhaps, is that you need another well-trained youth worker who can deal with families who are struggling.”
Bill Fahey, executive director of AYS, said the debate was “getting confused,” agreeing with Stapczynski that what his department needed was a “community support person” who would “most likely be a social worker ... who would advocate for young people and their families.”
He said the position wasn’t needed just to combat the growing problem of heroin or opiates, but also to focus on other issues such as marijuana and alcohol abuse as well as any other problems young people typically grapple with.
“Divorce, suicidal thoughts, drug issues, loneliness, isolation - that’s part of our program, too,” he said. “That’s our concern - helping young people move forward and make the right choices.”
He said the position could also leverage additional help from area colleges and universities whose masters’ level students could work as social work interns “specializing in youth.”
While a dozen or so people sat in the audience to support restoring the position, not everyone was in favor of it.
Mary Carbone of 10 Cyr Circle said that when she was 11 years old her mother died and she depended on the Notre Dame nuns for help, not Andover Youth Services.
“Adults are not doing what they are supposed to do,” she added, her voice rising and quivering. “They have two people in the family who work and the latch-key children are lost. Bill Fahey is not the answer.”
Mike Roli of 2 College Circle, however, called Fahey a “savior” to the young people of Andover.
“The kids he’s dealing with get into marijuana and they are lost,” he said. “He is the after-school discipline. Parents are not putting enough discipline in place. That’s why I call him a savior.”
Kelly Sutliffe, of 1 Carter Lane, agreed, saying the town needed someone to help struggling teens and their families.
“We know families whose children are dealing with drugs,” she said. “We need to prevent kids who are going to overdose on heroin.” She said a baggie of heroin sells for just $8 on the street. “That’s cheaper than a joint,” she said, adding that a friend of her daughter’s is an addict.
But she said the problem is bigger than just drugs.
“There are a lot of kids who are depressed,” she said, noting that there are children at Andover High School who need to be accompanied at all times by monitors who keep them from committing suicide.
Initially, Major proposed simply adding the position to the existing budget and not having Stapczynski make any further cuts.
“Instead of a $200,000 cut, let’s call it a $150,000 cut,” he said, referring to the board’s mandate that the town manager cut $200,000 from the town side of the budget.
But other selectmen said they were concerned that would send the wrong message to the School Department, whose budget selectmen cut by $400,000.
Selectmen Dan Kowalski and Alex Vispoli prevailed on Major to change his motion so that Stapczynski has to go back and make cuts in other parts of the budget to fund the social worker.
“I have a few ideas,” Stapczynski said after the meeting. He said he would provide a revised budget, with the new social worker and a funding source, at the board’s next meeting April 28.