by: Barbara Peterson July 1, 2019
Helping youth make better choices improves the lives of young people, families, and society. The Seacoast Community Diversion Program (SCDP) provides services that help teens foster positive outlooks and constructive practices. For those who have engaged in at-risk behavior, SCDP works to keep them out of the juvenile justice system by enrolling them in programs designed to develop better decision-making, habits, attitudes, and plans for their future.
According to Cory Towne-Kerr, who has been the Coordinator of SCDP since its founding in the spring of 2017, their court diversion program “serves the youth in our community by giving them a chance to divert their behaviors through restorative justice practices, education, and support. If they successfully complete the program, the charges for their crime do not go through, and they don’t have a juvenile criminal record.” Giving young people a chance to turn their lives around and start making choices that better serve their own interests as well as those of their families and society is incredibly important work in looking out for the future of our communities. If young people can learn from their mistakes in a productively nurturing environment that provides expert guidance and instructive experiences, they have a much stronger chance of a moving forward in a positive and beneficial manner.
The mission of SCDP is to divert young people from “re-offending and entering the juvenile justice system by implementing a restorative justice model for each youth, addressing underlying issues, and providing therapeutic groups and adventure-based learning,” according to Cory Towne-Kerr. This benefits the community in several ways. First, it saves the family and state money. Those that are referred to SCDP don’t pay costly legal fees that arise when young people are forced to go through the court system. Instead, treatment programs, youth services, and residential options available to young people who need help in getting back on track are all available on a sliding fee scale. This not only saves families and taxpayers money, it also saves the court valuable time, which helps everyone.
Another way SCDP helps communities is working together with youth to identify some of the major triggers and precipitating factors that lead to at-risk behavior. By identifying these factors, SCDP staff create uniquely tailored contracts with each youth to target problem areas and address them in a way that is particularly beneficial to that individual. Cory gives one example of a young person who has been referred due to marijuana possession. SCDP staff who work with this individual may find that the young person struggles with depression and boredom. They may also find that many of the youth’s friends smoke marijuana recreationally, which makes it seem normal and even desirable. Other individuals may be referred because of theft, which staff may learn stems, in part, from a need to fit in socially with peers. Learning some of the causal factors or triggering situations allows staff to develop a contract that works with those unique factors for each person to get them to rethink their choices and engage in more appropriate and beneficial behavior.
One example of what a contract may contain for individuals who are referred for minor drug offenses is an educational course on marijuana, which they do in part with the SCDP coordinator so they can process the information together. They may also ask the young person to engage in a physical activity at least 2 hours/week to give them something healthy to do that offers benefits to them physically, mentally, and potentially socially. Additionally, they require random drug screens and provide counseling throughout the process to help with sobriety, and they require an evaluation from a LADC (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor) to determine their substance use concerns and give recommendations. As Cory says, “While working to complete these contractual requirements, the youth meets weekly with the SCDP team to check-in and engage in motivational interviewing to help empower them to decide what changes they want to make in their lives, and how to do so.”
According to Ms. Towne-Kerr, SCDP provides “information and support on the following topics: substance use, bullying, anxiety, social media, understanding the teen brain, defiant teens, and open forum groups for parents to discuss what they are struggling with in regards to their teens.” While carrying out the terms of the contract, SCDP staff provide vital services such as suggestions from mental health counselors, substance use programs, pamphlets on therapeutic riding facilities, and a packet with phone numbers to homeless shelters, utility assistance programs, family/women aid, suicide prevention hotline, and more.
Based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, SCDP offers preventative groups in middle and high schools in the towns they serve. According to their website, their programs address “underlying issues behind shoplifting, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and anger-management.” In addition, they offer therapeutic groups, adventure-based learning, substance abuse counseling with a LADC. For parents/guardians of youth as well as families not involved in their programs but who are looking for support, SCDP also provides psycho-educational groups, free of charge, twice per month, Wednesdays from 6-7pm, for 8-week series.
Since they formed, SCDP gained accreditation in December 2018 from the NH Juvenile Diversion Network. Also, they started out by serving Portsmouth and Exeter, but have expanded to include Newington, Stratham, and Hampton, and they are looking to serve even more towns in the future. They are a nonprofit, 501c3 status organization that does not have any permanent funding sources; thus, donations are always welcome.
When we care for our youth, we care for our future. Taking on the concerns and problems of young people is vastly important work and, in a just world, it would be a well-financed staple in every community. Instead, it is typically relegated to volunteers and programs that must continually seek out funding, and SCDP is no exception. Paying the societal and economic price of young people going to court and possibly a detention center serves no one’s interests. We are all much better off if our youth could learn to make more beneficial and healthy choices so they become happy and positive contributors to their communities and our society as a whole. SCDP helps young people turn their lives around, from engaging in at-risk behavior to making more appropriate decisions from which we all benefit.
Supporting Seacoast Community Diversion Program
· SCDP programs are not funded by the state, and do not have any permanent funding sources, so donations are always welcome.
· They are also looking for volunteers on their contract committees, which each meet once per month.
· Volunteers to act as mentors to our youth are also appreciated.
Members, Affiliations, and Contact Information
Website: www.chasehome.org (The Diversion Program is part of the Chase Home site)
Facebook/Twitter: The Chase Home for Children
Email: Cory Towne-Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org