Programs for Struggling Teens: Youth Diversion Programs This Emotional Life - PBS

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Adolescence / Blog

 Frederic Reamer Ph.D.

Frederic Reamer Ph.D.'s Bio

Dr. Reamer is a professor in the Graduate Social Work Program at Rhode Island College.

Programs for Struggling Teens: Youth Diversion Programs


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Youth diversion programs typically attempt to help struggling teens who have had contact with the police avoid more formal involvement in the juvenile justice system (that is, juvenile courts and correctional facilities).  Typical youth diversion programs offer first-time offenders individual and family counseling, links to other needed services (such as psychiatric medication), and education.  Teens enrolled in diversion programs typically meet with probation officers who provide the court with periodic progress reports.  Teens who comply with youth diversion program requirements may be able to avoid formal court adjudication and intervention.

“Outreach and tracking” is one type of diversion program used in many communities.  The staff of these programs initiate face-to-face contact with the struggling teen several times a day, seven days a week, to provide close monitoring.  The goal is to keep the teenager safe in the community, in the family, in school, and out of trouble. 

An Example of a Youth Diversion Program

The “Youth Diversion Program” (YDP) operates with the cooperation of the local juvenile court probation department.  The program diverts first-time offenders from the juvenile justice system.  Teenagers who participate in diversion avoid formal contact with the juvenile court and instead are involved in a structured, community-based program.  Eligible offenses include shoplifting, petty theft, trespassing, destruction of property, curfew violation, alcohol violation, and running away from home. 

The local juvenile court refers the teenager and his or her parents for an intake interview with one of the YDP counselors, who conducts an assessment to develop an individualized program that addresses the teenager’s unique needs.  The diversion plan may require individual, family, or group counseling; educational workshops on topics such as substance abuse issues or domestic violence; volunteer work at a nonprofit agency in the community; restitution; or participation in an employment program.  The primary goals of the diversion program are to encourage at-risk teenagers to engage in more positive and constructive behavior; intervene with the teen at an early stage and avoid the possibility of progression toward more serious offenses; help the teen avoid the negative connotations associated with formal referral to juvenile court; and provide the teenager and family with appropriate social services.