In early 2009, the mayor of Westfield, Indiana, Andy Cook, and Hamilton County Superior Court Judge Steve Nation decided to try and create a youth program to keep kids out of the juvenile court system. After many months of research and planning, they announced the creation of a unique Youth Assistance Program that focuses on preventative treatment for at-risk youth, rather than using disciplinary measures and adjudication. The Westfield Youth Assistance Program kicked-off in September of 2009 and has been a huge success with over 300 children involved in the program.
The program’s goal is to identify youth in need of assistance prior to becoming part of the growing juvenile and criminal justice system. “This is a completely new way to approach at-risk youth,” says Mayor Cook. “We are identifying youth heading down the wrong path, reaching out to them, providing treatment for the entire family and ultimately ensuring that the child begins heading down the right path,” says Cook.
The program assists at-risk youth 3 to 17 years of age. Individuals are evaluated and treated based on specific needs. Treatment primarily consists of, but is not limited to, a mentoring program, community volunteering involvement, family education, family counseling, skill building tutoring programs, and scholarship camps.
“We would like to begin to make a positive impact on a child’s life rather than involving the juvenile court system,” says Judge Nation. “We believe by bringing positive influences and recognition into their lives, positive behavior will ultimately be the result.”
Referrals to the Westfield Youth Assistance Program are provided by Westfield School Counselors, Westfield Police and Fire Departments, community members, and families.
The distinctive part of this program is that it involves the cooperation of several different jurisdictions working together, along with community volunteers who really make the program happen. “Community involvement is the unique piece of this program,” says Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Paul Felix. “It is amazing to see community members step forward and take part in the encouragement of our youth.”
Hundreds of volunteers give time and energy to the program, which makes it so successful. Volunteers populate a Board of Directors, develop and coordinate fundraisers, mentor and tutor children, and much more. There are two paid staff case workers and most of the money for the program is raised through grants and donations.
Research has shown a 240-day stay at the Juvenile Department of Corrections averages $33,600. A 120 day period in the Westfield Youth Assistance Program, including treatment, will cost $240. Obviously, it is much more cost effective to treat at-risk youth before they become part of the judicial system.
We are thrilled with the results this program has brought our community. Over 300 kids have benefitted, and nearby cities are implementing similar programs within their jurisdictions. We are looking forward to many years, and many more stories of success, from the Youth Assistance Program.
Director of Communications
City of Westfield, IN
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