The District of Columbia is at the forefront of a national trend in positive, community-based services and placements for youth committed to a juvenile justice agency. Juvenile justice systems across the country are relying less on secure confinement and more on community-based placements and services. Placing court-involved youth in the community with structured and comprehensive services and supports is a recognized method of keeping youth from re-offending, while increasing their engagement in education and work.
The leading initiative to deliver community-based programming in Washington, DC, is known as DC YouthLink, established in 2009. DC YouthLink is a coalition of community-based service providers with experience working with court-involved youth. Two Lead Agencies serve as the coordinators of services for DYRS youth and families connected to DC YouthLink. They are also charged with the management and monitoring of the Service Coalition, a network of providers that deliver direct services, supports, and programs to court-involved youth. Moreover, the grantees partner with DYRS to develop, enhance, manage, and evaluate the effectiveness of the DC YouthLink Initiative. Currently, The National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) is the Lead Agency serving youth who live in DC Wards 7 and 8, as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Progressive Life Center (PLC) is the Lead Agency serving DYRS youth who live in DC Wards 1-6, as well as in Montgomery County, Maryland.
DC YouthLink is built on the premise that a youth’s neighbors and community are often better suited and more successful than government agencies at helping court-involved youth reintegrate into their community.
By investing in youth-serving organizations in home neighborhoods, DYRS is doing two things:
- Supporting youth currently committed to DYRS, and
- Developing locally-based resources that keep youth from re-offending and help others from entering the justice system in the first place.
What does DC YouthLink do?
- Connects DYRS youth who are in the community to services, supports, and resources to help them succeed.
- Protects public safety by engaging court-involved youth in structured activities in the community.
- Invests in and builds upon the strengths of community-based organizations to serve youth near their home.
One youth describes it this way:
When I came to DYRS, I was considered a threat to the community and public safety and quite frankly, I did not believe that most of the people I met in the system really understood or cared. That changed when I met my mentor. He didn’t judge me but talked to me about the situations that led me to getting my charge. I shared with him that for years my mother had been struggling with a serious issue and my mentor has been the person helping me to remain patient and supportive of my siblings in a way that does not put me in a bad situation. In fact, [my mentor’s] mother died recently after years of struggle with some of the same problems. He encouraged me to take my education seriously and told me that he would hold me accountable for doing so and made me to promise him that I would get my GED. Recently, I delivered on my promise and I got my GED. He was there every step of the way encouraging me and in some instances he sat down with me and helped me prepare. Today, I’m currently employed and thankful for the role that my mentor played in my life. It means a lot to me when he asks how I’m doing, and how my mom is doing. He is like a father to me, because he is the first man that I truly want to make proud. -- S.C., age 18
In its first three years, over 1,000 youth have received services through DC YouthLink that range from job training and school support to mentoring and substance abuse interventions. Over this period, DYRS youth have become less likely to be re-arrested, less likely to abscond, and more likely to be engaged in structured, positive activities. DC YouthLink effectively promotes public safety by intensively engaging youth.
DC YouthLink is just one way that DYRS works to help youth succeed. The agency is working with the schools, the police, mental health experts, job coaches and other professionals to provide supports and services for its youth.
DYRS youth and their families should contact the youth’s case manager or social worker to discuss referrals to services.