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Emotional safety and warmth within the family is essential to an individual's mental health. That's the conclusion of the staff at New Horizons Crisis Center and, because of that belief, the center has launched a "Youth at Risk" program.

"In my continued research, the nationwide message I am receiving in the professional community is that we need to concentrate on family values in order to reduce or eliminate the problems of abuse and violence, said Lynda Whitlock, director of New Horizons, headquartered in Richfield.Two new programs implemented by the agency involve "at risk" youths, parents and education. "Realizing that prevention is much more cost effective for society than remediation, we developed a children's program in conjunction with parenting classes," Whitlock said.

"Public policies that support the family are essential for the survival of our society. This thing called abuse is an ugly social problem that many people refuse to acknowledge.

"If we think of it at all, we would like to believe it has to do with other people in other places. But the truth is abuse and domestic violence are found in every segment of society."

Whitlock said abuse was once considered a "hands off" issue to be dealt with in the privacy of a family, but an increasing number of cases are being brought to criminal courts. "One thing that we as a society are recognizing is that violent and chaotic homes inculcate violence and instability as a way of life."

New Horizons' "At Risk Youth" program is aimed at constructive activities that will stabilize emotions and build self-esteem and good character traits. "We want to ensure that youths receive positive reinforcement, building strong self images and a sense of purpose," Whitlock said.

"Our Social Service worker provides enrichment opportunities for all youth involved so they may explore beyond the confines of the regular school curriculum. This is accomplished by reaching out into the community to fulfill actual needs and real-life experiences, helping the youth to develop a sense of responsibility and caring for others.

"At the same time, parents are enrolled in a parenting class in which educational material on child development and parenting is combined with a focus on parenting skill development and the ability to provide an emotional and physically safe environment for their families."

Whitlock urged residents of the south-central Utah area to examine themselves and their families, advising them to, "Consider carefully whether your words, behavior and intent are in any way abusive or inappropriate."

The New Horizons Crisis Center works primarily to prevent spouse and child abuse and help those who suffer from such incidents in Sevier, Sanpete, Juab, Millard, Wayne and Piute counties.