When Stevan Kukic talks about troubled youth, he twists that term around. It's a semantic thing, he admits, referring to kids as youths first - before mentioning their problems. Kukic thinks it makes a difference.

Kukic says he believes in collaboration, which is a step beyond cooperation.Kukic, coordinator of programs for at-risk students at the State Office of Education, was part of a panel Thursday addressing the future of networking resources for Utah's adolescents. Other panelists were Norman Angus, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services; William Vickrey, state court administrator; and Paul Thorpe, director of state division of mental health.

More than 600 state employees attended the conference at Snowbird, which focused on caring for troubled youth.

Kukic told the audience he understands adolescents' mistrust of state-level bureaucrats like himself - bureaucrats who talk a lot, use big words and rarely make effective changes.

But agencies need to work together and design inclusive programs, forgetting titles and focusing on the problem. He cited a successful example in the Cache School District, where alternative programs in mainstream schools have caused grade-point averages to rise and absenteeism to drop.

Advocates need to retain a sense of "tragic optimism" and work to regenerate a caring community, Kukic said.

Youths need life skills when they graduate from high school, as only 20 percent of Utahns have college degrees. While 75 percent of high school students say they want to attend college, only 12 percent of Utah jobs require higher education.

Angus said human service programs can no longer be the state's dumping grounds, as the department's budget and staff are stretched beyond their ability to provide adequate services. "We came to the conclusion that in this system about the only way you get attention is when you have a crisis."

So Angus called a task force to bring together officials from various state departments to focus on programs that help youths in trouble. So far,"we're all addressing the issues from our own turf."

But Angus said he is convinced that prevention is the most cost-effective way to consider adolescent problems.

Vickrey encouraged advocates to remember youth and their families when considering programs, rather than just considering what is politically feasible. "Too often we think about managing well versus focusing on managing with some sense of purpose."