Pictured: Juan Molina, Project Director
New Jersey -- This summer, dozens of young people have begun benefitting from a recently launched initiative aimed at reducing gun violence in five New Jersey counties.
The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program is a partnership with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. and the> New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA). In its 47th year, YAP is a national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public safety systems to provide community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate residential placements, and neighborhood violence. YAP was instrumental in a statewide effort to bring 1,400 New Jersey children home from out-of-state institutions and providing them with services using its unique community-based wraparound rehabilitative Advocate model.
“The Department of Community Affairs is pleased to provide continued support to Youth Advocate Programs,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of DCA. “In New Jersey, we have established ourselves as national leaders and understand what it takes to stop the vicious cycle of mass shootings and everyday gun violence. The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program is critical, especially at a time when gun violence still claims the lives of too many of our residents. In addition to passing commonsense gun safety laws that work, it’s programs like this that positively impact our youth and their families by providing tools to help them connect to appropriate resources and opportunities in their community. We remain committed to making New Jersey a safer place to live.”
“Increasingly, as communities look to implement effective and racially equitable public safety systems, YAP has been working with more local governments to combine our unique wraparound services approach with other evidence-based strategies to help curb gun violence,” said YAP National Director of Violence Prevention Fred Fogg. “The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program implements principles that form the foundation of YAP’s evidence-based youth justice model. – employing neighborhood-based Advocates to provide intensive individualized services that empower youth and families to see and build on their strengths to bring positive change.”
The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program serves young people, ages 12-18, in Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Middlesex and Ocean counties. Credible Messengers, YAP employees with lived experience -- some of whom were formerly incarcerated -- will provide program participants with ten hours a week of trauma-informed individual and family wraparound support.
“For my team and I, this work is an opportunity for mending, healing, and planting seeds for restoration in communities, said YAP Project Director Juan Molina. “It’s a way to use our experiences and understanding to empower young people and their parents or guardians with the kinds of tools that will help them restructure their lives, as individuals, family members and neighbors.”
Through partnerships with neighborhood-based businesses, participants take part in YAP Supported, Work employment, receiving on-the-job training, coaching, and mentoring, with compensation through the program from the nonprofit. The youths also attend weekly group Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) sessions.
“These therapeutic sessions are designed to address the kind of adolescent trauma associated with violence,” Fogg said. “Additional group interventions can include the use of restorative Peace Circles or elements of the Peaceful Alternatives to Tough Situations curriculum.”
Researchers from the Rutgers University Department of Psychology and the Rutgers School of Social Work are working with YAP to evaluate the effectiveness of the multi-site program. Investigators will track program participants’ school attendance and behavior, youth justice system involvement, and other risks associated with violence.
Consistent with YAP’s “no reject; no eject” policy, as capacity allows, The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program will accept all age qualifying referrals in the five-county service areas, whether through schools, systems, or families. The program is designed to serve youth who face complex life challenges, including school suspensions, truancies, displaying illegal or violent behavior and/or dealing with mental health or substance use issues.
“Our goal is to reach young people who are at the highest risk of being involved in or impacted by violence to ensure that they are connected to tools they need to make positive choices,” Fogg added. “The YAP model prioritizes building lasting supports that remain in place once formal program involvement has ended.”
YAP’s decades of service include working with many young people whose histories include serious offenses, multiple arrests, and lengthy out-of-home placements. John Jay College of Criminal Justice research found 86 percent of YAP’s youth justice participants remain arrest free, and six – 12 months after completing the program, nearly 90 percent of the youth still lived in their communities with less than 5 percent of participants in secure placement.
Learn more about YAP at www.yapinc.org.