Oak Park Township hires director of youth services

Local resident takes over position serving struggling teens

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It didn't take long for Oak Park Township to find a new director of youth services, but the incoming head of the department realizes she has some big shoes to fill.

Megan Traficano has spent about three weeks in the position vacated at the beginning of the year by John Williams, who served in the position for nearly a quarter century.

Traficano is a licensed clinical social worker with a master's degree in social work from Loyola University.

She served as a social worker, clinical coordinator and assistant vice principal for a decade at Joseph Academy, which serves students with behavioral, emotional and learning disabilities.

The new position is a return to the village for Traficano, who grew up in Oak Park.

Traficano praised Williams' work with gang intervention in the 1990s and his work in restorative justice.

"He has established such a good base here and established programming that's proven to work, and I'm just excited to build upon it," she said.

Williams' work with the Youth Interventionist program was recognized last year by the state for using best practices in its approach to helping struggling youth.

Through her work at Joseph Academy, Traficano said she has observed the changing needs of teenagers, who face bullying, trauma and mental health issues. The introduction of social media has been particularly challenging for youth, and Traficano wants to work on how that's affected teens and the impact it has on self-esteem.

She wants the Youth Interventionist program to listen to the needs of its clients to better gauge their needs.

"I want to talk to kids because as adults we have it in our heads that this is what they need, but the youth know what they need, too," she said.

Traficano said teenagers often feel they are not part of the conversation when it comes to their own well-being, adding, "I just remember being a teenager and feeling like they're not going to listen to me."

She already is meeting with officials from the Park District of Oak Park, social workers at various school districts and others.

The Youth Interventionist program is referral-based, so most clients come from schools, the park district, the police department and other organizations within the village.

Youth interventionists work to address a number of issues young people deal with, including everything from substance abuse to trauma, grief, depression and homelessness, Traficano said.

She said she aims not only to work with teens through the various programs the township offers, but also to get the word out about their accomplishments.

"I think, too, being a social worker when you're doing the direct work, you don't think to highlight what you're doing or what your team is doing," she said. "I see that a lot in the field."

tim@oakpark.com

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