Somerset, PA -- The Somerset Area School District (SASD) has partnered with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. to implement the community’s first school-based diversion program to address habitual truancy and other behaviors that can often lead to detention and arrests.
“It wasn’t working to suspend and give detention, having kids go to court and pay fines; creating another barrier to kids and families already struggling,” said SASD Assistant Junior and Senior High Principal Marc Cacciotti.
Based in Harrisburg, Pa., YAP is a national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia in its 47th year of partnering with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, public safety, and school systems to provide community-based rehabilitative and diversion programming. Focused on keeping young people safely home, YAP’s frontline Advocates and behavioral health professionals provide wraparound services to meet program participants’ educational, emotional, and economic needs. These community-based services are an alternative to detention, incarceration, and congregate residential facilities.
Seven SASD students have received diversion services since YAP implemented the new program in May. Students can receive services for up to a year and YAP can serve up to 10 participants at a time.
“Implementing the SASD diversion program has been a wake-up call, letting us see why a student is not coming to school,” Cacciotti said. “Transportation issues, for example -- our community is rural so that’s huge. When a kid has no way to get here, YAP says I’ll come get you.”
Aligned with the nonprofit’s “meet them where they are” and “no reject, no eject” values, YAP Advocates provide program participants with around-the-clock, trauma-informed individualized services, empowering them with tools to see and nurture their strengths. Advocates engage parents as partners as they connect them and their children with necessary resources to help them reach their goals and give back to their communities.
“With help from her Advocate, a 17-year-old student was able to get her permit after failing the test a few times,” said YAP Lead School Liaison Jennifer Holder. “Another program participant who suffers from mental health diagnoses and is off and on with treatment is becoming more proactive with self-care and attending doctor appointments,” she added.
In addition to ensuring that students have the job readiness, behavioral health, educational and basic-needs resources they need, YAP Advocates plan group outings and activities for program participants.
“The diversion program gives students positive connections with adults. When they’re discharged, they’re telling us, ‘I grew up in that short period of time. I trust someone,’” Cacciotti said. “We have students who are discharged and still want YAP.”
Learn more about YAP at www.YAPInc.org or follow the organization on Twitter at @YAPInc.