Missouri Division of Youth Services
The Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS) is an agency in the state of Missouri that operates under Missouri Department of Social Services as a correctional and treatment facility network for juvenile delinquents within the state. On a broader perspective, DYS operates as a Juvenile Court Diversion program. From a total of forty five juvenile courts in Missouri, only one court sends juveniles to DYS. The DYS was brought into existence by the Omnibus State Reorganization Act of 1974. The agency admits more than a thousand new candidates every year and serves about three thousand individuals in total. Of the individuals admitted to DYS, three quarters are males while the rest quarter is of females. Close to two thirds of these individuals originate from metropolitan locations within the state; the rest come from other regions (Parrish et al., 1971).
Committing a felony or any other serious crime forms the ground for most admissions to DYS. At least sixty percent of individuals undergoing correction in DYS have a history of committing felony while a considerable percentage have some background link to felony (Dowd, 2011). Others have mental problems and may need mental therapy alongside other services that are offered by the Missouri Division of Youth Services. Furthermore, educational disability and history of out-of-home placement are highly prevalent among the candidates at DYS. With the main goal of preventing re-offence and increased justice issues, DYS offers a range of services to the youths admitted to its program (Dowd, 2011). These services include assessment procedures, treatment in various forms as well as care, and education. Delivery models are in many formats and range from nonresidential to full-time secure residential cases (Dowd, 2011).
Missouri’s DYS has its own established approach to treatment and therapeutic activities. This approach rests on the belief that problems need not be offered solutions without their root causes being known. As such, Missouri’s approach aims at the earliest possible intervention and targets character change as well as successful integration into the society with improved sociability and increased productivity (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2011). It is because of this that the approach incorporates families, schools and other stakeholders within the community (McShane & Williams, 2007). This approach has caused the rise of a rich culture that easily facilitates change. The general objective of including community elements therapeutic approaches is because therapy is viewed to be of help to the youth being corrected and their communities. While the youths change into valuable society members with regenerated strength and productive abilities, their communities also become safe and secure places for everyone (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2011).
The Missouri Approach
There are various principles and approaches that make the program at DYS one of a kind perhaps in the entire United States. Dubbed as the ‘Missouri Approach,’ the program tends to avoid the traditional methods of giving correctional services to youths. This is because such programs tend to display ineffective tendencies by creating temporary changes on the youth, who later on turn into worse re-offenders compared to their initial state. The ‘Missouri Approach’ considers such acts as failure in the line of correction (Cox, 2011). The approach considers every individual’s past, viewing them as progressively changing individuals, and as future valuables who are relevant to communal development. As such, the approach makes an investment into these individuals with the deliberate intent of achieving cognitive, behavioral and emotional change with the ultimate aim of improved personal development and interaction (Cox, 2011).
Though conventionally referred to as an “approach”, the Missouri Approach is a collection of several approaches organized into one big body and utile in attaining a common goal. The first one is the least restrictive approach that is regionalized according to geographical distribution. Within this program, there are eleven day resource centers and family centers accessed for treatments. The program has seven group homes and seven hardware secure programs. It also has eighteen moderate care programs. As a court diversion program, it is more community based and flexibly includes families, considering their strengths and needs (Cox, 2011). The next approach is the consideration on environments where therapy takes place. Missouri’s DYS operates on homes that are natural like and serve to meet the basic needs of youths undergoing therapy. These environments are named humane environments and form the emotional as well as physical building blocks that assist in therapy (Cox, 2011). There is the approach of forming group circles that are referred to as ‘Group Systems.’ These group systems operate in the form of experiential cohorts and their main aim is to improve the individuals’ social and emotional competence. Additionally, the groups conduct group meetings to discuss progress and issues pertaining to correction on a daily basis. Assertively, they are the keys to development and successful interventional therapy.
The approach of ‘Fully integrated treatment’ has emotional healing of traumatic cases in juveniles as its main point of focus. It also works with family systems. Other than emotional healing, the approach targets cognitive growth and improvement of the concept of self awareness. Another approach that works together with this is that of ensuring healthy marriage ‘between treatment and education.’ Ideally, the last two approaches aim at engaging the individuals undergoing therapy at family and community levels. They focus on engaging the individual in the communal and family matters in forms of family therapy, visitations, and liaison (Cox, 2011). Further, they seek to continue family advocacy for the youth as they work their ways out of the DYS therapy schedule. All the approaches are geared towards DYS main objective. Therefore, they can be applied independently as well as jointly so as to accomplish the targeted changes DYS endeavors to achieve.
The Missouri Treatment Beliefs
The Missouri Division of Youth Services carries out its activities on the basis of various beliefs about the youth being corrected and the therapeutic processes they undergo. These beliefs act to guide how those involved in therapy relate to the youths. These beliefs emphasize the essence of safety and structure as the major basics for operations in treatment. Belief in the uniqueness of every individual and the fact that individuals can change or have the desire to change shapes the basis for a welcoming environment and a positive view of youths with encouragement for positive effort towards positive change (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Beliefs, 2010).
Further, DYS discourages the judging of emotions as being right or wrong by switching to disclosure for healing. The organization goes ahead to recognize behavior as purposeful and symbolic of unmet needs. Another belief is based on the fact that whatever people can do is done within their available resources. The family and its role in the treatment process are noted as vital and completely unavoidable (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Beliefs, 2010).
The final set of five other beliefs held by DYS begin with genuine empathy and care identified as basic tenets of true understanding. This belief stresses on respect and the upholding of human dignity. Another belief recognizes the extent to which the needs of individuals are alike, and the positive approaches administered to deal with these needs in productive ways. Recognizing the past, the next belief states the requirements of elements in our history to help in today’s construction of our future. The final two beliefs focus on the ideas that for one to change, they must be in a group of changing people or changed people and not alone. This drives to the ideas of accepting and embracing diversity through acceptance and interaction (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Beliefs, 2010). Put together, the Missouri Treatment Beliefs work jointly to focus on healthy ways of administering therapy while maintaining human dignity for the purpose of success.
Missouri Treatment Philosophies
‘Humane environments’ marks the first treatment philosophy of the DYS. In this philosophy, the agency considers every youth as a significant resource. The philosophical base of this concept is to avail an environment that is welcoming and healthy for change and which avails all the basic needs as well as education, healthcare and recreation. Another chief feature of such an environment is that it must be secure and free. ‘Least Restrictive Environment,’ is yet another treatment philosophy which requires that the environment provided for therapy be least restrictive. This is to ensure that all the youths involved live a more or less natural life. It is only in extreme cases insecurity and various threats arise when more restrictive environments are introduced by DYS (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Philosophy, 2010).
Used as the primary model of therapy provision, ‘Group Treatment’, also a treatment philosophy, depends on the use of group social settings where individuals share and interact while changing procedurally. This philosophy considers individuals who resist change and improvement as those who are responding healthily to situations which are unhealthy. As such, every behavior has a reason and must be considered using both the behavior and the cause. This is done in a group setting (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Philosophy, 2010).
‘Systems Approach’ philosophy uses contexts where behaviors and various habits occur in attaching meaning to them. The philosophy based on this treatment approach analyses the underlying system dynamics in an individual’s greater culture, society, and family background and personality predispositions in order to diagnose root causes of behavioral problems and generate their solutions. The philosophy of ‘Neutrality’ stems from a basic viewpoint that all approaches of treatment and therapy to an individual should be done with an open mind and neutral considerations. It seeks to identify and use the potential held within people in consistence with systemic approach philosophy views (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Philosophy, 2010).
‘Family Perspective’ is yet another philosophy of the Missouri DYS that endeavors to strengthen the family as a unit system that is relevant for necessary changes. The bond between youth program facilitators and the youths, as well as, that between the youths and parents is strengthened in order to create a hands-on program that ensures success. The last three philosophies, ‘Diversity,’ ‘Case Management,’ and ‘Individual Treatment planning,’ seek to successfully tackle the issues affecting the individual on an individual perspective but while appreciating the existence of diversity around the youth. On the overall, the philosophies of treatment at the Missouri DYS establish a healthy basis and foundation through which youths can be treated and rehabilitated in a community friendly and humane approach. This ensures that they end up better human beings when they leave the facility (The Missouri Approach - Treatment Philosophy, 2010).
Management and Engagement of the Community
With recognition of the community as a fundamental player in the running and success of correctional facilities, the Missouri DYS has deeply included the community, not only in its models of correctional therapy but also in its management activities. Appointed by the Director of the Department of Social Services, the DYS is run by an advisory board that is made up of fifteen members. The first prerequisite for composing this team is that the members be bi-partisan. Among these members are individuals from the public community who represent different geographical divisions. Nonetheless, for these members to be appointed to the board, they must not only come from the various geographical regions but must also possess skill, know-how and experience in matters relating to correctional activities for children, health and education. Other members are chosen on the basis of professionalism and expertise in correctional facility knowledge. The rest are public officials who also represent the state in the board (Parrish et al., 1971).
For purposes of neutrality, the board cannot be made of more than eight individuals who belong to one political party. Activities of the board include quarterly review meetings and other meetings in cases of emergency, provision of operational and expertise advise to the facilities, visit and constant inspection of the various facilities and linking the Missouri DYS and the general public.
Missouri DYS Results, Success and Achievements
Assessments and evaluations of success rates by the DYS and the Department of Social Services place the Missouri Division of Youth Services as a wonderful success story. A 2009 report shows that more than two thirds of the program’s graduates remain law abiding youths for durations longer than three years without any critical incidents (Cox, 2011). Cases in other facilities present more than four times possibilities of assault by youths on staff, and more than ten times the same on youths compared to the cases at the Missouri DYS. On admission, the prevalence of educational and learning disabilities is diagnosed at above 30%. However, it is estimated that between seventy and eighty percent of these youths improve their learning skills and have better achievement scales after their stay at the DYS facilities. 2009 had 385 youths from the DYS complete their secondary education. This number was more than three times the national success rate. Generally, the DYS is a story of success in correctional and youth behavioral and educational therapy (Springer & Roberts, 2011).
Why Missouri Division of Youth Services is Different
There are several areas that make the Missouri DYS special and different from other programs with the same objective within the country. Whereas DYS insists on elements of safety, a range of services depending on situational severity, healthy therapeutic organizations, other facilities still maintain the traditional concepts of general lock-up with external controls and complete absence of family and other relationships. As such, Missouri achieves internalized change through an engaged interaction of family, peers, community and schools. The other institutions do not achieve change but just a temporary case of behavioral compliance. Missouri has simply moved from the rigid correctional view of having inmates to a human point of having young people that need humane therapy (Cox, 2011).
Tracing its origins to the 1970s, Missouri Division of Youth Services, has undergone several evolutions to end up developing their own approach to solving problems of juvenile delinquency. Reorganizing various beliefs of isolation, punishment and restraint structures, DYS has ended up with the best facilities in the nation. Because their approach is friendly, and more welcoming to the youth, the DYS’s success in character reformation is more than that achieved by all other facilities across the nation. DYS presents a model that should be adopted and used not only in the country but across the world as its merits are overwhelming.
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