Interns Leave Lasting Re-Entry Solutions for Older Juveniles

How many college interns can say that their projects can have a lasting impact on future youth when they re-enter society after a stint in the state juvenile court system? Hannah Ridgeway and Julia Husk can say a definitive “yes,” although neither thought as much during their recent internships in the Community Programs Division of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The students pursuing their master’s degrees at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were tasked with researching cost-effective solutions for older youth returning to state society.

Ridgeway researched Housing First models for youth ages 18 and older and found Youth Focus of Greensboro, whose model is best conceived as a residential community setting. The aspiring adults live in Youth Focus apartments with staff support. Ridgeway has retained Youth Focus to expand its HEARTH TLP program to provide up to four apartment rooms for youth involved in juvenile justice who would otherwise be homeless due to their circumstances. The program is currently in the start-up phase.

“As juvenile justice has increased, in some cases to 21, Community Programs has focused on creating a stronger continuum of services for the 18+ youth we serve,” said Brittany Schott, contract administrator for Community Programs, who oversaw the interns . “Housing First Models is a service being added to the continuum, dedicated to providing individuals with safe, stable and affordable housing which in turn supports individuals’ ability to find employment, complete school and focus on their needs focus on mental health. The model creates long-term public safety implications by ensuring the emerging adult population has support while gaining greater independence, ultimately reducing recidivism and helping improve their ability to become fruitful members of our communities.”

Husk helped develop a comprehensive peer mentoring curriculum used at the Boys Residential Academy in Eckerd Boomer, Wilkes County. The short-term facility offers individualized treatment and study plans that combine formal and experiential education, vocational training, community service, behavioral health, and family counseling. However, on-site staff are always looking for innovative ways to enhance youth experiences and learning on campus.

“The peer mentoring curriculum is used at the Eckerd Boomer site for men and is led by two great Eckerd employees,” said Schott. “I envision them continuing to invest in the program and using it to reinforce the youth’s skills before they return to their home communities.”

Husk looked at the growing focus on peer mentoring programs and the ability to assist both the mentor and ‘mentee’ through the creation of a structured peer mentoring curriculum and program delivery. Schott said the goal is to help the youth who return home within a few months of their return to improve their skills by mentoring youth who are new to the place of residence.
“This (71-page) peer mentoring handbook not only prepares you for mentoring boys, but also for how to manage anger and be a good friend. That will help them when they leave the treatment facility,” said Husk, who wants to pursue a PhD. “What I have created can be used or replicated in other facilities.

“I want this to give them empowerment. I want to give these youngsters a chance. Some had a bad life at home. I want to give them another tool in their tool belt to help them succeed.”

Before starting their research projects, the interns knew neither the inner workings of the Community Programs section nor how they interacted within DJJDP. But they knew something about DJJDP’s overall mission.

“I went to Boomer. I saw the juvenile court, sat in state assemblies and reentry assemblies. I started to understand more about the decision-making process,” said Husk, whose roommate worked with youth for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. “I found that community programs were designed to keep kids close to home. It really clicked and I was excited to do this project.”
Ridgeway said she had experience as a student with a youth dealing with juvenile justice.

“My undergraduate focus was youth rehabilitation,” Ridgeway said. “I wanted to go to JJ. Most kids seemed to go into the criminal justice system and then into the community. It was more of a punishment. I knew nothing about the structure (of DJJDP) and how many steps and processes children went through who were not sent to a youth development center. I learned a lot.”
“Our interns did a lot of footwork and research to find programs in North Carolina,” said Community Programs Director Cindy Porterfield. “Thanks to the energy, focus and conversational skills of the interns, we have now identified a successful model program.”

Schott said she wasn’t surprised at how well these projects were doing.

“The great thing about a social work internship is that the internship is meant to be educational and enriching for the student, but also to help support the work of the host institution. Both Hannah and Julia demonstrated immense strengths from the moment they began their community program internships. Both like to learn and can work independently,” says Schott.

“The work they have produced reflects their strengths in understanding systems, focusing on details and making a difference for the better. The projects also reflect her growing knowledge of juvenile justice.”

Leave a Comment