Jim Smith, Ted Leavitt and Fred West use the sand tray as a form of play therapy for children at Langley Youth and Family Services. Smith and West have been with the agency since it started 40 years ago. Leavitt is program manager.

VIDEO: Forty years of helping Langley children and families

Langley Youth and Family Services (LYFS) marks anniversary with founding counsellors still on the job

It’s been four decades since Jim Smith and Fred West started working with children and families at Langley Youth and Family Services (LYFS) and the two counsellors are still on the job.

The office marked it’s 40th anniversary on March 1, with Smith, West and three other counsellors handling more than 170 active cases.

“Looking back, maybe we were 40 years ahead of ourselves,” Smith told the Times.

Smith and West were invited to Langley by the RCMP to create an early intervention program, based on a Burnaby initiative created by Smith.

The early intervention and prevention approach of working with young people and their families to address potential mental health difficulties that contribute to youth crime had caught the attention of the then-Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP, Robert Simmonds, who called it the most innovative approach to preventing youth crime he had come across.

The relocation to Langley came just as funding for the Burnaby program was running out.

“It was both exciting and a little scary,” West said of the move.

“The City looked much different back then. Our offices were upstairs in the back of the old city hall which is now torn down.”

The agency now operates out of offices attached to the new city hall in Langley City.

Jointly funded by the City and Township of Langley, LYFS offers free counseling to the families of children between the ages of five and 17.

Most referrals are for problems relating to aggressive and angry behavior, but also include theft, drug use, and many other issues. Referrals are also received from school counsellors, social workers, and physicians.

West said over the years, the problems that bring children and parents to the service have evolved.

“We’re noticing a lot more anxiety and depression with children, and a lot more acting-out behavior,” West said.

“People are generally more stressed.”

Smith said sometimes, the office is dealing with the next generation of families they’ve helped in the past.

“Parents are bringing their children in and reminding us that when they were teenagers we were working with them,” Smith said.

“It’s one of the positive benefits of being in the community as long as we have been.”

At the last meeting of City council, mayor Ted Schaffer offered congratulations to the entire team at LYFS.

“The work of the LYFS team has helped many youth and their families through difficult times and their invaluable service truly do make a difference,” Schaffer said.

Last summer, Smith decided to step back from his role as program manager and the face of LYFS in the community.

The new program manager, Ted Leavitt, is a graduate of Walnut Grove Secondary who said he has some big shoes to fill.

“I am replacing an institution in the community and the significance of that is definitely not lost on me,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt wants to raise the profile of LYFS in the community.

“So many parents that I talk to don’t even know that we exist,” Leavitt said.

“I think more people need to know. They’re lost, they’re drowning and they think, ‘I can’t wait three years to get services. They need to know that there are other options out there for them.”

Plans for the future of LYFS include creating a website to help get the word out.