- Office of the Child Advocate
Media Contact for OCA and DYS Launch Youth Diversion Initiative
BOSTON — The Department of Youth Services (DYS), in partnership with the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), has launched a new state-level Youth Diversion initiative to provide high-quality, evidence-based youth programming that can serve as an alternative to arresting the youth or prosecuting them through the Juvenile Court. The Massachusetts Youth Diversion Program will begin with three “Diversion Learning Labs” being launched in three separate counties, led by NFI Massachusetts in Middlesex County, Merrimack Valley Family Services in Essex County and Family Continuity in Worcester County.
“The Department of Youth Services has a long history of working collaboratively with youth, their families, and communities to ensure youth get the service and support they need to change their life trajectory and avoid future justice system contact,” said Commissioner Peter Forbes of the Department of Youth Services. “We are proud to partner with the Office of the Child Advocate, as well as NFI Massachusetts, Merrimack Valley Family Services, and Family Continuity to launch the Massachusetts Youth Diversion Program and help increase the availability of diversion services in the Commonwealth.”
The Diversion Learning Lab was a 2019 recommendation from the state Juvenile Justice Policy and Data (JJPAD) Board, which is chaired by the Office of the Child Advocate, following over a year of study.
“We are calling this a ‘Learning Lab’ because that’s the goal: to learn, to improve, and to refine the diversion model so that it can eventually be made available statewide,” said Maria Mossaides, Director, Office of the Child Advocate. “Currently, if a youth is processed through the traditional juvenile justice system and convicted, the state pays the cost of supervising and providing treatment to that youth, whether through Probation or the Department of Youth Services. But if a youth is diverted, local communities bear the costs of providing any needed services. This creates inequities based on geography, as not all communities have equal service availability. Our goal in launching this initiative is to help address these inequities and ensure that high quality diversion services are available across the Commonwealth.”
In 2020, a subcommittee of the JJPAD released a Diversion “Model Program Guide” with recommendations for how the diversion program should be structured, based on reviews of other successful diversion programs as well as discussions with representatives from a wide variety of stakeholders, including OCA, DYS, the Juvenile Court, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Massachusetts Probation Service, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, the Children’s League of Massachusetts, Citizens for Juvenile Justice and a parent subcommittee representative.
Diversion Learning Lab providers will accept referrals in their region from any justice system practitioner who has the legal authority to divert a youth, including law enforcement, juvenile court magistrates, district attorneys, and juvenile court judges. Once a referral is made, Diversion Coordinators will conduct evidence-based assessments to inform their case planning and management.
The Diversion Learning Lab program model has the following goals:
- Reduce the likelihood of future offending by youth in the program and increase public safety
- Hold youth responsible for their actions
- Support positive youth development (PYD)
- Promote and ensure equity in the process
“We are so happy to be partnering with DYS to implement this pilot project,” said Lori Howe, Chief Operating Officer, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. “We all know that young people make mistakes and need to be held accountable for their behavior, but they also deserve support a guidance so that they can navigate the difficult adolescent years and not be derailed by involvement with the juvenile justice system. We look forward to working with youth and families, with DYS and the other pilot sites to develop a model that can eventually help young people across the state.”
"As part of the Youth Learning Lab, Family Continuity will collaborate with OCA and DYS in developing the Blackstone Valley Youth Diversion Program utilizing its well-established partnerships in the community to provide diversion services to youth,” said Craig Maxim, Director of Special Projects, Family Continuity. “The goals of the project align with Family Continuity's mission to inspire individuals and families to achieve overall wellness through counseling, support, education, and making connections to the community.”
“NFI Massachusetts is thrilled to be participating in this innovative and necessary pilot project for the Lowell community,” said Eric Klingaman, Director of Operations, NFI Massachusetts. “Not only is diversion important to assist youth in maximizing their potential, it is also an essential tool for reducing systemic racial and ethnic disparities.”
For more information on the Department of Youth Services please go to www.mass.gov/DYS.
For more information on the OCA, please visit www.mass.gov/orgs/office-of-the-child-advocate