Author: Jerry Higgins
How many college interns can say their projects can leave a lasting impact on future youth as they re-enter society after spending time in the state juvenile justice system? Hannah Ridgeway and Julia Husk can say a definitive “Yes,” though neither gave that much of a thought during their recent internship with the Community Programs section of the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The students pursuing their master’s degrees from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were tasked to research cost-effective solutions for older juveniles reentering society in the state.
Ridgeway researched Housing First Models for youth ages 18-up and found Youth Focus of Greensboro, whose model is best conceptualized as a dormitory environment. The emerging adults live in apartments owned by Youth Focus with staff support. Ridgeway was able to engage Youth Focus in expanding their HEARTH TLP Program to provide up to four apartment rooms to juvenile justice-involved youth who would otherwise be homeless due to their circumstances. The program is currently in the start-up phase.
“With juvenile jurisdiction increasing, in some cases to 21, Community Programs has been focusing on creating a stronger continuum of services for those juveniles we serve that are 18 and up,” said Brittany Schott, the contract administrator for Community Programs who oversaw the interns. “Housing First Models is one service that will be added to the continuum and are intended to give individuals safe, stable and affordable housing which, in turn, supports the individual’s ability to gain employment, finish school and focus on their mental health needs. The model creates long-term public safety impacts by ensuring that the emerging adult population has support while gaining more independence, ultimately reducing recidivism and helping to enhance their ability to become fruitful members of our communities.”
Husk was involved in developing an extensive peer mentoring curriculum that will be used at the Boys Residential Academy at Eckerd Boomer in Wilkes County. The short-term facility provides individualized treatment and academic plans that combine formal and experiential education, vocational education, community service, behavioral health and family counseling. However, the on-site staff are always looking for innovative ways to enhance juveniles’ experience and learning on the campus.
“The peer mentoring curriculum will be utilized at the Eckerd Boomer site for males and will be led by two amazing Eckerd staff members,” Schott said. “I envision them continuing to invest in the program and utilizing it to solidify juvenile skills before their reentry to their home communities.”
Husk looked at the growing focus on peer mentoring programs and ability to help both the mentor and the “mentee” through the creation of a structured peer mentoring curriculum and program delivery. Schott said the goal is to help those juveniles who are within a few months of returning home enhance their skills by mentoring juveniles who are new to the residential site.
“This (71-page) peer mentoring manual not only prepares for mentoring boys but just how to deal with anger and be a good friend. This will help them once they get out of the treatment facility,” said Husk, who is looking to pursue a doctorate. “What I’ve created can be used or replicated at other facilities.
“I want this to give them empowerment. I want to give these juveniles a fighting chance. Some have had a poor home life. I want to give them another tool in their tool belt to help them be successful.”
The interns did not know the inner workings of the Community Programs section, nor how it interacted within DJJDP, prior to beginning their research projects. But they did know some about the overall mission of DJJDP.
“I went to Boomer. I saw juvenile court, sat in state meetings and re-entry meetings. I began to understand more about the adjudication process,” said Husk, whose roommate has worked with juveniles for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. “I found out Community Programs worked to keep kids close to their homes. It really started to click, and I was excited to do this project.”
Ridgeway said she had experience as an undergraduate student with a juvenile justice-involved youth.
“My undergrad focus was on youth rehabilitation,” Ridgeway said. “I wanted to go into JJ. Most kids seemed to go into the criminal justice system then go into community. It was more like punishment. I did not know about the structure (of DJJDP) and how many steps and processes kids took who were not sent to a youth development center. I learned a lot.”
“Our interns did a lot of footwork and research trying to find programming in North Carolina,” Community Programs Director Cindy Porterfield said. “We’ve now identified a successful model program thanks to the interns’ energy, focus and interviewing.”
Schott said she was not surprised how well these projects turned out.
“The great thing about a social work field placement is that the placement is intended to be educational and enriching for the student but also help to support the work of the hosting agency. Both Hannah and Julia showed immense strengths from the moment they began their field placement in Community Programs. They both have a passion for learning and are able to work independently,” said Schott.
“The work they produced reflects their strengths in understanding system connections, focusing on details, and wanting to make an impact for the better. The projects also reflect their growing knowledge of the juvenile justice system.”