NYFS Diversion Program Helps Youth Get Back on Track
Clients who attend an intake for the NYFS Diversion Program quickly learn that they will be treated as a person, not a problem, says Jackie McGovern, Manager of Community Services at NYFS. “We’re here to help youth navigate this process and find ways to make better decisions in the future. It’s not about what you did, it’s about what you do after.”
The Diversion Program is an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system that works with youth ages 12–17 who have justice system involvement including theft, disorderly conduct, or alcohol/drug use. Using restorative principles, youth address the incident and harm caused, rebuild their lives, and get back on track.
Youth attend one-to-one consultations, educational seminars with their parents or guardians, perform community service, and if applicable, pay restitution. Youth may also complete service projects, write apology letters to those they have harmed, and participate in chemical use testing, if needed. The program works to reduce the number of negative contacts youth have with law enforcement while significantly reducing the likelihood that they will reoffend in the future.
Jackie said that she is seeing an increase in youth who also need mental health support and appreciates being able to refer clients and their families to therapists who are just down the hallway from her office. The trust she helps build with the family can make it easier for them to access additional support and overcome logistical challenges as well.
She adds that working with youth and families attending the educational seminars is another key component to the success of the program. “It’s great to see parents connecting with each other during these seminars,” she says. “They feel much less alone and appreciate being able to share their experiences.”
Over 150 youth participate in the diversion program every year and less than 5% reoffend six months after completing the program. Jackie says the program has always been designed to see the worth and value in every client and that is what has made it a success.