Leading Community-Based Alternative to Youth Incarceration/Institutionalization Shares Blueprint for Success - Article Details

Leading Community-Based Alternative to Youth Incarceration/Institutionalization Shares Blueprint for Success

Nov. 15, 2019 – At age 16, Ellana Watson, whose mother battled mental illness, was mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her when a school fight led to an expulsion, arrest and charges of assaulting a police officer. Today, Watson is working, completing community college and volunteers in her spare time. She said Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., presented to her as an alternative to youth prison, helped her turn her life around.

Watson’s story is one of many that inspired program practitioners to combine their empirical knowledge with independent research to pen an article, “Increasing Resilience in Youth and Families: YAP’s Wraparound Advocate Service Model,” published in Child & Youth Services, a peer-reviewed journal. Authors Dorienne J. Silva, M.S.W.; Caroline M. Petrilla, J.D., M.A.; Diana Matteson, M.A.; Séamus Mannion, M.A.; and Stacy L. Huggins, M.S., provided a blueprint of the design, implementation, research base, and future global application of the YAP Wraparound Advocate Service Model. The publication of the article comes as more systems are embracing reform and looking to replace youth prisons and congregate care facilities with evidence-based, cost-effective alternatives.

Approaching its 45th anniversary in 2020, YAP currently serves as an alternative to out-of-home placement for 20,000 youth involved in justice and child welfare systems in more than 100 communities in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The nonprofit has also adapted its model to support youth and families in Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Sierra Leone and Guatemala. Over the decades, the YAP Wraparound Advocate Service Model has evolved to include specializations to address violence prevention, gang intervention, work readiness, young adult re-entry, substance use, and needs of LGBTQ young people, commercially sexually exploited youth, and most recently, First Nation youth in Australia.

“My YAP advocate helped me see my strengths and connected my family and me with tools to help reinforce our foundation, which was not very firm because I was bouncing between relatives’ homes.,” Watson said. “After I completed the program, I got a chance to be a youth ambassador and represent YAP at the Street Soccer World Cup in Brazil and Copa America in Argentina.”

“Through my YAP experience, I began to see my resilience, which I leaned on during a time after high school when I was temporarily homeless,” she continued. “Now I’m totally independent and will be applying to a historically black college to purse a bachelor’s in criminology.”

YAP’s programs are increasingly meeting communities’ needs for serving young people and families who fall through traditional social services gaps.

“YAP’s services are tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual youth and family served,” said YAP Chief Operating Officer Dorienne Silva, one of the paper’s coauthors. “We view all young people through a strength-based lens, as having the power to grow and give back as Ellana has.”

Key Components of the YAP Advocate Service Model from the Journal Article

YAP’s Mission and Principles

YAP is guided by principles that reflect the nonprofit’s mission to keep young people and families with complex challenges together in their communities, as a safe alternative to out-of-home placement.

YAP’s Wraparound Advocate Service Model supports the entire family, ensuring that they have voice, choice and ownership in the individualized service plans of young people served.

YAP believes with appropriate environmental/social supports and skills development, each young person and family served has the capacity to grow and evolve and give back to their communities.

YAP adheres to a no-reject, no eject policy.

Committed to cultural and linguistic competence, YAP matches youth and families with professional advocate mentors with similar backgrounds, interests, and when possible, shared zip codes.

YAP’s services are strength-based, empowering youth and families with tools to identify their gifts and talents, while connecting them to accessible resources support their vocational, educational and personal pursuits.

YAP fills direct-client service gaps; contributes to policy dialog; and spearheads community give-back projects.

YAP’s People

YAP’s Wraparound Advocate Service Model program delivery includes careful selection of staff; infrastructure that supports skills training; supervision and coaching; and ongoing outcomes monitoring, evaluation and feedback.

YAP advocate mentors have longstanding relationships with community partners including referral and service agencies

Committed to cultural and linguistic competence, YAP matches youth and families with professional advocate mentors with similar backgrounds, interests, and when possible, shared zip codes. This ethnic, racial, cultural and linguistic competence and understanding of the neighborhood’s strengths, needs and resources help YAP advocates develop trusting relationships with youth and families they serve.

YAP advocates cautiously avoid forming preconceived notions that can be generated through third-party communications, which have the potential to injure open, honest and unconditional individual and family relationships.

YAP Wraparound Advocate Service Model in Practice

YAP’s initial meeting with families, which takes place with 48 hours of receiving a referral, addresses immediate concerns, enables early interventions to promote safety and/or stabilization and sets a positive tone for productive teamwork.

Following the initial family meeting, YAP convenes a team that includes professionals trained in appropriate areas of need and extended family, friends, coaches, pastors, and other positive influences.  

YAP advocates work with the family to identify and prioritize needs and strengths and create individualized service plans. Only when the team’s formal partners feel confident enough to step back does family voice, choice, and ownership truly guide the substantive action steps from start through implementation and to discharge.

Advocate mentorship activities focus on developing productive life skills, abilities, communication, self-esteem, conflict resolution, emotional awareness, leadership, cultural sensitivity, academic and vocational engagement, time management, fiscal responsibility, health and hygiene, gang prevention and intervention, and substance use.

YAP advocates and youth work together on age-appropriate skill building exercises, teamwork and sportsmanship, money management, resume writing, transportation planning, shopping, cooking, physical fitness, and cultivating healthy choices across multiple life domains.

Meeting venues include the home, gym, playing field, park, library, museum, school, local eatery, and grocery store — and wherever works.

YAP staff are available 24 hours, seven days a week.

Supported work is a component of the YAP model, providing job skills and positive work habits.

The YAP team celebrates the youth and family’s growth in self-sufficiency. Together they acknowledge accomplishments, and individual and team contributions.

Research Supporting YAP’s Outcomes

Quasi-experimental research conducted by Michael J. Karcher, Ed.D., Ph.D., of the University of Texas, San Antonio and David Johnson, Ph.D. of Wake Forest University found that one-year post program discharge, youth who had completed the YAP program reported a statistically significant lower number of serious dispositions; more improvement in school attendance and connectedness to teachers; greater efforts to secure employment; and a decrease in misconduct.

Quasi-experimental research focusing on YAP’s Orlando, Fl. program, conducted by Jeffrey Butts, Ph.D., and Doug Evans, Ph.D., of the John Jay Research and Evaluation Center, found within two years of completing services, the rate at which YAP youth -- dually served by youth justice and child welfare systems -- were committed to state institutions was 4 percent compared to 21 percent of youth under youth justice supervision. The study estimated Orange County, Fl. would have saved nearly $700,000 if the 249 youth on probation had been referred to YAP instead.

A National University of Maynooth study assessing the YAP Ireland model found youth involved in YAP programs compared with other youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems have more positive outcomes in several life domain areas, including residential stability, community connectivity, educational and vocational engagement, and reductions in criminal activity and arrests.

More information is available at yapinc.org where you can find the Child & Youth Services “Increasing Resilience in Youth and Families: YAP’s Wraparound Advocate Service Model” authors’ bios and access the full journal article.


  1. authors'bios.pdf 11/5/2020 3:39:09 PM


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