Though I have a biweekly column in the Columbia Tribune, I don’t work for the paper. My real job is as communications director for the Missouri Department of Social Services. We don’t deal with much happy stuff – Medicaid, food stamps, child abuse, juvenile offenders, etc. – so I rarely get to spend time on uplifting subjects.
One program – the Division of Youth Services – is usually an exception. They take young people who’ve run afoul of the law, often more than once, and help them craft a better, more law-abiding future. DYS is a national – indeed a global – model for doing this. Their temendous success rate is acheived with a therapeutic approach to tackling the underlying issues causing kids to make bad choices. There are few facilities with fences, none have more than a few dozen youth and the kids aren’t doing time, they’re released when they’re deemed ready to safely reenter the community. It’s different for each kid, and it flat out works.
I went to one group home last month, Gentry Residential Treatment Center in Cabool, where they’ve done DYS one better. There, the young men operate a catering service that serves the community, builds experience and self-worth and generates revenue that goes back into the program. That day they were hosting a regional meeting of University of Missouri Extension staff and prepared a wonderful fall meal (really, the food was excellent). The resulting video – which I shot but did not produce – is up on the state’s home page this morning (and embedded above).
If you’re so inclined, you may read more about the DYS approach to juvenile justice here.