Town to fill old Youth Advocate position

Aug 10, 2020

The town will be getting a Youth Advocate again after more than a year and a half, as the Select Board voted to advertise for the position within the next 30 days at a meeting on August 10.

Dartmouth has gone without a Youth Advocate since Jennifer Cabral left in January 2019.

The Youth Advocate works to support young people in vulnerable situations, such as abuse victims or those whose families are affected by issues like addiction, homelessness and poverty.

Over the past 18 months, the Youth Commission has worked to expand the role to include support for families — but at the same time, other town officials have argued for removing it entirely.

At one January 27 meeting Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes suggested that the role was redundant and under-utilized, while multiple community members pleaded to fill it as soon as possible.

And despite a looming fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic, Spring Town Meeting approved the job, voting by a wide margin to fully fund $71,991 for the position in June.

MacInnes stated at the August 10 meeting that if the Youth Advocate position is expanded, it would likely constitute a new position, needing a higher pay grade and Town Meeting approval. But filling the job as currently described could be undertaken within the month, he added.

Since Dartmouth currently has a non-essential hiring freeze in place due to the coronavirus emergency, the board would need to discuss whether the position is essential.

I don’t know how essential it is, we’ve done without it for a year and a half,” noted Select Board Chair Frank Gracie III.

“From a priority standpoint, our community has been underserved for the last year and a half, so getting someone into the position is paramount,” stated Youth Commission Chair Jamie Jacquart. “We’ll do the best we can with what we can get.”

Jacquart noted that the Youth Advocate’s services are often needed in delicate situations, and as such are not usually as visible as other government services. “If it’s not you or in your family, it’s likely your neighbors,” he said. “It’s really private.”

“It’s critical we move forward,” noted board member David Tatelbaum. “We need to get it done. What’s going on in our schools right now, it’s scary, and the sooner we get help...the better off we’ll be.”

“I feel this job is not an essential job right now,” said board member John Haran. “I’m more worried about our senior citizens.”

Finance Committee member Bob Gauvin stated that he voted against funding the position at Town Meeting, noting “If there’s ever a year where we need a good reserve, it’s this year.”

“The school department has seven social workers,” he noted. “And they have five psychologists.” Gauvin listed other towns without a Youth Advocate — including Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Acushnet, and Westport — before adding that the town is “in crisis mode.”

“If this position hasn’t been filled in two years, that’s the definition of nonessential,” he stated.

“Town Meeting has spoken,” said Tatelbaum. “This position is a very essential position...The debate is not whether the need is there, the debate is how best to serve that need.”

Board member Stanley Mickelson agreed. “Town meeting has spoken,” he repeated, “Almost unanimously. It didn’t squeak by. Six or eight months prior to this, I was really not in favor of it. Now, with what’s going on in our school system...We can’t afford to let these kids fall by the wayside.”

Mickelson made the motion to advertise the current Youth Advocate position within the next thirty days, as officials are currently scrambling to hold a Sept. 1 primary election with no Town Clerk or Assistant Town Clerk.

The motion passed 4-1, with Haran dissenting.

At the same meeting, the Select Board also voted to appoint former Dartmouth resident and 19-year-old University of Connecticut student Kempton Campbell to the Youth Commission.