Over the last twenty years, the number of youth incarcerated in residential facilities across the United States has declined significantly. While the reasons for this precipitous drop are complex, many scholars believe that the decline has been driven in part by youth justice practitioners’ increased recognition that out-of-home placement can lead to poor outcomes. Youth in these placements can often experience disconnections from family, school, and community supports, as well as poor educational outcomes and an increased probability of future involvement in the legal system. Consequently, many jurisdictions have sought to increase community-based alternatives to incarceration and to expand effective and strength-based services for youth and families. In 2019, six jurisdictions across the United States were selected to participate in an initiative designed to introduce and implement Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP®) as part of their continuum of community-based services for youth and families. With the support of a Ballmer Group grant and in partnership with the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy (CJJR), YAP, one of this country’s leading nonprofit organizations delivering intensive, direct services to youth and families, implemented the Safely Home Initiative in the following sites: Yavapai County, Arizona; Alameda County, California; Fulton County, Georgia; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Hamilton County, Ohio; and the state of Illinois (with a focus on Cook County). In these sites, YAP collaborated with youth justice system officials to serve young people in the deep-end of the system. The program was launched primarily as an alternative to out-of home youth justice placement or as a vehicle for providing aftercare services to youth returning from placement. In each site, the target youth population included those at very high risk of re-offending and who presented the most pressing need for intensive services.
Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. is a national nonprofit that provides intensive, non-residential direct services to youth with complex needs and high levels of risk, often serving as an alternative to youth incarceration and/or residential care. Since its inception in 1975, YAP has served tens of thousands of youth in over 100 communities across the United States, including young people, emerging adults, and their families in the youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, developmental disability, school, and other public systems. YAP’s mission is to “provide individuals who are, have been, or may be subject to compulsory care with the opportunity to develop, contribute and be valued as assets so that communities have safe, proven, effective, and economical alternatives to institutional placement.” In 2019, YAP partnered with the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy (CJJR) on the Safely Home Initiative to identify six additional jurisdictions to launch YAP in their communities. The effort, supported by a generous grant from Ballmer Group and built upon YAP’s approach in facilitating effective partnerships between private and public sectors, was designed to offer jurisdictions the opportunity to expand local alternatives to incarceration through the YAP model.
After a competitive national application process, YAP and CJJR selected six sites (herein the “YAP/CJJR Safely Home Sites”) to participate in the initiative. The jurisdictions included: Yavapai County, Arizona; Alameda County, California; Fulton County, Georgia; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Hamilton County, Ohio; and the state of Illinois. YAP and CJJR selected these jurisdictions based on their commitment to providing community-based services and supports to youth, their readiness to implement YAP, and their willingness to explore the long-term sustainability of program implementation.
As noted above, a Ballmer Group grant supported the launch of YAP in the YAP/CJJR Safely Home Sites. This approach offered jurisdictions a short-term strategy to serve youth with complex needs within the community while identifying pathways for sustainable funding. This innovative concept of leveraging private sector funding as bridge money provides jurisdictions, especially those that are under-resourced, an opportunity to take the first steps in changing their systems to rely less on institutional placement. In addition, this strategy allows youth and families in need to receive support swiftly without struggling with the red tape commonly encountered in government-funded programs. Indeed, at the time of CJJR’s interviews in 2022, each YAP/CJJR Safely Home Site reported having secured additional funding to sustain YAP in their communities beyond the period of the Safely Home Initiative. YAP collaborates with state and local systems of care to deliver individualized, culturally responsive services to youth and families. In the youth justice context, state or local justice agencies and courts contract with YAP and typically serve as partners and referring authorities, identifying candidates for YAP and providing key background information about the youth and their families. After receiving a referral from these authorities, YAP staff, usually the local Program Director, conduct an intake meeting with the youth and family at their home or another convenient location (or with the youth in a facility if necessary). YAP staff often spend multiple hours explaining the program, setting expectations, and learning about the youth’s and families’ strengths, needs, and situation. They then use this information to build a family team comprised of service providers, system stakeholders, and community members (e.g., neighbors, coaches, teachers) to help with the development and implementation of an individualized service plan.