Historically, Seacoast youth who committed minor, nonviolent offenses were treated much like anyone else—they were arrested and subjected to traditional punitive measures. With the launch of the Seacoast Community Diversion Program (SCDP) this past May, however, these and similar youth have another option.
“Juvenile diversion programs are evidence-based and have been met with great success,” said Meme Wheeler, executive director at Chase Home, which helped spearhead the program. “When the diversion program in Greenland shut down in 2010, the Seacoast was left with a gap in services. Our youth suffered because of it.”
In addition to Chase Home, other program collaborators include the Portsmouth Police Department, New Heights, Portsmouth School System, Exeter School System, Rockingham Juvenile Court, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
“We developed the program to address specific needs in the community and with sustainability in mind,” added Wheeler.
Cory Towne-Kerr, SCDP coordinator, said they already have 5 kids enrolled with additional intakes already scheduled.
“I like that education and support are a huge aspect of the program as well as restorative justice,” she said.
As far as how the program works, youth are referred to it by school staff or law enforcement. Youth do not just enter the program either, but are instead accepted into it and mandated to sign and consequently full the stipulations contained within a contract.
“We hold each youth accountable for their actions and hone in on what we feel they would most benefit from—whether it is family therapy, group therapy with Al-Anon, community service, or apology papers,” she said.
A family component is also required in each case with Families First Health and Support to lead a parents’ group that will start soon and meet every other month.
“Collaboration is the key to this program,” added Wheeler. “We cannot do this alone.”
Tracey Tucker, executive director at New Heights, agrees with Wheeler and said their involvement in the program will consist in providing adventure-based opportunities to participants and their families.
“We need to create solutions together,” she added.
Wheeler said they are currently working to become an accredited program within the NH Juvenile Court Diversion Network. Currently, there are 17 accredited diversion programs in the state with accreditation of SCDP expected by the end of 2017.
Founded in 1877 as an orphanage, Chase Home has evolved through the years to meet needs in the greater Seacoast community related to children and youth. To learn more about the program, visit www.chasehome.org.