safe place

Miracles in the Face of Many Challenges

Written by: Steve Tarver, President / CEO, YMCA of Greater Louisville

It’s Christmas Eve, after six in the evening. Most of the stores are closed and the streets are starting to get very quiet with little traffic. The daylight hours are few, so it’s dark outside. Cars parked in driveways and lights on in most homes indicate that families are gathering for holiday celebrations.

It’s during this time that I like to stop by our YMCA youth shelter. Like many others, it’s a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year operation. Normally, I will have picked up some gift cards which I like to deliver to be handed out to the staff that are working that night along with one for each child that happens to be spending that evening with us.

This past year (2014), it struck me…Where would these children be without the opportunity to be at our shelter? And further, the same question applies for every day of the year. Not sure why it took so long for this to hit me, but I have thought a lot about it since.

Sometimes I have the opportunity to meet with some of the children that are with us. I am always amazed at their intelligence and resilience. So many of them are miracles that stand up in the face of many challenges. And a caring adult who is simply willing to look at them with respect and see them as an asset can be a life changing opportunity for the child as well as the adult. In my opinion, that’s the real magic of the work done by hundreds of the optimistic and welcoming staff that work with the population of homeless youth in our local YMCA shelter, and places across the country that provide the security, safety, and HOPE for these young people.

Of course, this goes far beyond the Christmas holiday. But the question remains, where would these children be without the network of shelters that serve this population? I wonder also, the extent to which the broader community recognizes (and appreciates) this network. Like the children that find themselves on the street, neglected, or abused, many of those that serve them operate “in the shadows.” Shifting the outlook around youth development from a deficit model to an asset model is a huge story that needs to be told. Can we get this work out of the shadows? Can we shift from the generations-deep paradigm that youth are problems that need to be fixed? Can we create a new custom that would start from a point of seeing the potential of youth without being fearful of high expectations? In my experience, only rarely have high expectations not resulted in high responses. These young people have the capability. I’ve seen it.

Hopefully, there will be more dialogue promoting the asset approach to youth development to more audiences. National Safe Place Network offers a platform:


The Youth Thrive framework is a strengths-based initiative to examine how all youth can be supported in ways that advance healthy development and well-being and reduce the likelihood or impact of negative life experiences. Click to review the Youth Thrive Advancing Healthy Adolescent Development and Well-Being report. If you’re interested in receiving the Youth Thrive training, please contact National Safe Place Network at

Literature Review of Youth Development / Asset Tools:

Youth Resilience:

Protective & Promotive Factors for Healthy Development and Well-Being:

Developmental Assets: Preparing Young People for Success:

Increase Kids’ Strengths by Building Development Assets:

To learn how to get involved, please visit or email National Safe Place Network at


With: Maria Huebner, MSW, LCSW, Follow-Up Programs Manager, Behavioral Health Response (BHR)

*This piece was originally published in the Winter 2013 version of National Safe Place’s newsletter, “The Connection”

TXT 4 HELP is a 24/7 text-for-support service for teens in crisis. The service, which is available nationwide, was initially launched in 2009 and then re-launched in 2012 with a new interactive texting component. The interactive service is operated by Behavioral Health Response (BHR). Maria Huebner graciously agreed to participate in an interview about TXT 4 HELP Interactive.

A youth uses TXT 4 HELP and decides to text interactively for more help. Please explain the interactive texting exchange, how it works, and talk about the individuals replying to the messages. 

Youth in crisis can text the word “SAFE” and their current location to 69866 and they will receive an address to the nearest Safe Place site and contact numbers for the local youth shelters in their area. In cities that don’t have a Safe Place Program, users will receive the name and number of the youth shelter or if there is no local youth shelter, the National Runaway Safeline number (1-800-RUNAWAY) will be provided. At that time, users will also receive the option to engage with a live crisis counselor via text by replying with “2CHAT.” Then they will be connected to a crisis counselor at BHR. All inbound texts are answered by a Masters-Level Counselor at BHR, who will determine the teen’s needs, assess for any safety concerns, work to develop a plan to address needs and assist with linkage to appropriate referrals. BHR’s goal is to get youth linked directly to local resources via brief assessment, engagement and plan development to appropriate referrals.

What is the most common issue teens are struggling with when they use the TXT 4 HELP interactive service?

The main trend we see is youth seeking emergency housing because they report their parents have kicked them out of their home. Most of these youth are reporting no safety concerns, but requesting emergency housing.

What protocols do the operators follow when they believe a young person’s life is in danger due to thoughts of suicide or allegations of abuse?

BHR’s main goal is to ensure a young person’s immediate safety. BHR will first determine a teen’s reason for using TXT 4 HELP and assess whether the youth is currently safe. If the teen reports they are not safe, the crisis counselor will explore more about the nature of their safety concerns before taking appropriate action. The crisis counselor will explore the following safety questions: any current thoughts of suicide and/or thoughts of self-harming behaviors, any current homicidal thoughts, being abused and/or at risk of violence by others and/or is there any medical emergencies that needs to be addressed. If a youth reports any of these immediate safety concerns, and is unable to develop a collaborative safety plan and/or a youth is under 18, being abused and is with the abuser, then BHR will begin to ensure the youth’s safety. BHR’s crisis counselors will reach out to a teen via phone if they agree to gather more appropriate assessment information. If not, the crisis counselor will continue to build rapport via text to get the necessary assessment information and will contact local emergency services with the teen’s location information. The crisis counselor will also make an emergency hotline report to the young person’s local state child/abuse hotline when warranted. BHR always follows up on cases where local emergency services are contacted to obtain the final disposition of the situation.

Do you feel the interactive service is an effective way to help youth in need? If so, why?

National Safe Place’s TXT 4 HELP service is very beneficial for youth who are homeless, have immediate safety concerns, and/or being abused. Teens can easily access immediate help via TXT 4 HELP to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7 wherever they are. With the expansion of technology, youth are more comfortable and receptive to texting for help versus using the phone to call for help. Youth also find texting to be a safer way to express their needs, as they can remain anonymous when trying to get appropriate referrals. They like the non-judgmental approach of texting for help.

What is the biggest challenge regarding the TXT 4 HELP interactive service?

The biggest barrier BHR crisis counselors face when helping a youth via text is being able to help the work through the crisis situation in a timely manner.  Texting is very time-consuming versus talking on the phone. It takes time to build rapport with a teen and gather assessment information via text. Often times, youth who are texting can be easily distracted and do not text back right away when the crisis counselor is attempting to understand their needs.  When crisis counselors have the opportunity to talk to a teen via phone, they can assess for any background noise or distractions and gauge the youth’s mood, tone and affect by their voice during the conversation. Sometimes youth are not always cooperative or honest when responding to assessment questions and it’s difficult to further help them with referrals and safety planning steps if counselors do not clearly understand the youth’s needs. Youth also may text from a block number, and if a safety check needs to be sent, it is hard to locate the client to get them the help they need.

Do you have a TXT 4 HELP interactive success story to share?

Client Information:

Female, 17, Memphis, Tennessee

A youth used TXT 4 HELP Interactive and reported that her mother had threatened to hurt her. She was requesting somewhere urgent to stay. The youth reported that her mother threatened to pull a knife on her and she asked the crisis counselor what she should do that night. The crisis counselor inquired if she had called the police and she denied. The counselor then asked the girl if she could go a neighbor’s house or a friend’s house, and she denied. The teen agreed to speak with the crisis counselor on the phone and she reported her mother has taken the doorknob off her door and she does not feel comfortable sleeping at her house tonight. The teen agreed to make a three-way call with the crisis counselor to local police in her area and the counselor waited on the line with the girl until police arrived.  A week or so late, the counselor followed up with local police to get final disposition and they reported that they talked to the youth and her mother and no further action was taken.

To learn more about TXT 4 HELP and the Safe Place program, please visit

Safe Place logo

Helpful Resource from Polaris Project

Polaris Project, an organization leading the global fight to end modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors, posted an article on their website intended to help enhance services provided for LGBTQ human trafficking victims.

Breaking Barriers: Improving Services for LGBTQ Human Trafficking Victims

Excerpt: “Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) may be disproportionately affected by human trafficking. They face higher rates of discrimination and homelessness, making them especially vulnerable to traffickers.”

Read the full article here:


Your Needs. Your Network. Together We Can.

NSPN Membership & Safe Place License Renewal Drive Kicks Off April 1, 2015

It’s that time of year again – time to renew or begin your membership and Safe Place license with National Safe Place Network (NSPN). We’ve enjoyed offering benefits and services to our members and licensed agencies this past year and we hope you will join us for an exciting, eventful 2015-2016.

For more than three decades, NSPN has provided services and support to agencies like yours, serving youth and families. Hundreds of thousands of youth have benefited from your work and involvement as a youth service provider. You are the Network’s most important asset – without youth and other agencies who believe in participating in and learning from an experienced community, there is no Network.

Starting on April 1, you will have the opportunity to sign up for or renew your membership with NSPN. As a Safe Place agency, you will have the opportunity to renew your license. Be on the lookout for forms coming in the mail, and be sure to check out our updated webpage beginning April 1.

Membership-Campaign-Ad Safe-Place-Campaign-Ad---2015

TXT 4 HELP Service for Youth in Crisis

This week, communities across the country are celebrating National Safe Place Week (#NSPWeek2015)! This nationally-recognized week honors the Safe Place program, which brings together businesses and volunteers to provide immediate help and safety for teens facing abuse, neglect, homelessness or other crisis situations. It’s also a time to show appreciation for the many businesses and volunteers that participate in the Safe Place program to support youth.

Today is TXT 4 HELP Tuesday during NSP Week! TXT 4 HELP is a 24/7 text-for-support service for youth in crisis. Check out this new video to learn more about TXT 4 HELP and to watch a real-life texting exchange take place.

To learn more about TXT 4 HELP, please visit:

Why Safe Place Matters

At National Safe Place Network, we believe in the power of community and the incredible effect one community can have on a young person’s life. Safe Place is an outreach and prevention program for youth in need of immediate help and safety. Businesses and community organizations, such as libraries, youth service agencies, public transportation vehicles, YMCAs, grocery stores, and more, display the Safe Place sign – making help readily available for youth. Safe Place simply cannot operate successfully without community buy-in and support.

We are grateful to be able to share the following story with you, a story that exemplifies what it means to be a Safe Place community.

This month, QuikTrip (one of our incredible corporate and Safe Place site partners) received a message from a customer about an incredible experience she had at one of their stores in Phoenix. As she was leaving the store, a young man asked her for some money. When she asked what he needed it for, he told her his mother kicked him out of the house. This meant the young man had no place to go on Thanksgiving. She went back into the store and asked the clerk for a pen and paper. When she explained why she needed pen and paper, the clerk’s face lit up and he said, “We have a special program just for this!” He told her about Safe Place and helped connect the young man to the licensed Safe Place agency.

Click here to read the entire story:

This is just one of many stories highlighting the invaluable impact a program like Safe Place has on the life of a youth. Too often we hear stories about youth who are abused, neglected, homeless, or who have run away from home. No matter the reason, young people have a safer alternative to a life on the streets or a life without stable housing. Safe Place provides connection to helpful and supportive resources when youth need it most.

Just yesterday, an article was posted on shinning a light one of America’s most vulnerable populations: “Unnaccompanied and Unnoticed: Saving our Homeless Youth” by Eric Rice, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work. Rice cites the recent publication of “America’s Youngest Outcasts” by the National Center on Family Homelessness which reports 2.5 million homeless children under the age of 18.

Rice states, “These youth are largely invisible walking right past most of us — even me. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need our help. Most of these young people have survived family rejection, abuse and neglect. They need our compassion, our help and our attention. We need to provide more safe housing for these youth and get them support services, so they can grow into adults who live up to their full potential.”

This is why Safe Place matters. We need to continue to provide the connection to safety and supportive services for youth in need. Do you live in a Safe Place community?

Learn more about Safe Place and how you can get involved at

Safe Place logo

And The NSPN Awards Go To…

2014 NSPN Award Winners

Year in and year out, youth service professionals, dedicated volunteers and community organizations work diligently to strengthen youth and families in communities across the country. National Safe Place Network is honored to recognize the following individuals, organizations and companies who have and continue to make a difference in the lives of youth:

NSPNsights: Getting Started – Again

How do you launch a new organization? Wow…a question requiring a long answer and it is a very good thing that I don’t have to provide it! How do you bring together 2 long term partners to form one entity – united – toward a common mission?  Well, now, I can write about that.

It is no secret that National Safe Place and the Youth and Family Services Network (YFSN) are now one. I think we were always of a shared mind – we just operated with different EIN numbers.  There was so much agreement in terms of our commitment to youth; our dedication to partnering with youth and family service organizations; our belief that collaboration has longer term benefits that competition; and, well – the list goes on. There were also differences. National Safe Place had more than 30 years of experience in partnering with communities to expand and strengthen a safety net for youth. A national effort built on the concept of a simple sign with a critical message. Today, there are hundreds of communities, thousands of Safe Place sites and a shared belief that any youth in crisis must be able to seek out and receive immediate assistance or in other words – “Someplace to Go. Someone to Help”. YFSN had more than 30 years of experience creating a network of support, capacity building and benefits for organizations. As an association consisting of agencies working daily to provide critical needs and services to youth and families, YFSN developed an extensive history of capacity building, training, technical assistance, consultation and funding initiatives. YFSN also established a culture that lived the “Together We Can” motto of learning from each other and understanding that each and every organization within the membership has something valuable to share and in doing so, everyone wins.

Now a single entity, operating as National Safe Place Network (NSPN) – we believe we have found a way to bring the best of our efforts together and to benefit all of you who currently believe in us as well as all of you who we are inviting to join us in our journey.

We encourage you to review the new website ( and contact us with ideas, questions and other feedback that will continue to strengthen our network and make it a place you consider as home and that feels like a place you want to visit often. Welcome!