Families sometimes fall into a frightening gap when a member has chronic problems, and yet hasn't gotten into enough trouble to come to the attention of the state social services system.

The Utah Boys Ranch, a private, nonprofit state-licensed agency, has developed a continuum of supportive family services to try to fill that gap and help troubled families, according to Vernon C. Utley, executive director.The ranch has joined forces with the Center for Leadership, Education and Development, under the direction of Jerry Willmore, a certified behavioral therapist. The resulting program, developed by the center, emphasizes accountability and personal choice. With individual choice comes individual responsibility, Willmore said.

Staff and youth reach agreements, which are carefully scrutinized as to whether they are kept or broken.

"Agreements differ from rules in that rules are externally imposed while agreements are internally chosen and mutually agreed upon. The result of this process is to empower the individual to have greater self mastery and a more workable life, regardless of personal circumstances," he said. He called the new program a "win-win" situation.

Utley, his staff and the boys at the Utah Boys Ranch participated in an intensive two-day workshop organized and led by the center to initiate the program during June. All youths and their parents will be able to attend a two-day workshop at the center as part of the admission process to the Utah Boys Ranch.

The program involves working with the youth's family to ensure integrity, responsibility and workability. Family participation ensures continuity of support to the youth after he leaves the ranch. "If a troubled youth does not have a viable family," Utley said, "through our networking system we will provide a surrogate family trained by the center to support the youth."

Families who are interested in being trained and paid as surrogate families to support searching youth should contact the Utah Boys Ranch.

For information, contact Utah Boys Ranch (Children and Youth Services Inc.), 3809 W. 62nd South, Salt Lake City, UT 84118. (801) 969-3252.