Florida Times-Union, July 16, 2021
Reprinted from jacksonville.com
Four years after the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee convened on the order of State Attorney Melissa Nelson, the Duval County Diversion System of Care has fully transferred under the direction of the Kids Hope Alliance and Partnership for Child Health.
“The transition of Diversion to KHA and the PCH is beneficial to youth because we are working as a collaborative to provide individualized services to youth in an effort to prevent them from going deeper into the juvenile justice system,” said Katoia Wilkins, director of the Juvenile Justice Programs at Kids Hope Alliance.
Since the State Attorney’s Office is not a social service agency, the idea behind the transfer was to create a system, not just a program, to find evidence-based services for juveniles. The State Attorney’s Office is the legal arm, Kids Hope Alliance is the funding portion and the Partnership for Child Health is the social services provider and organizer, according to Wilkins.
Kids Hope Alliance and the Partnership for Child Health officially started receiving referrals in February of 2021. The group is anticipating serving well over 400 youths yearly in the diversion system.
The transfer took significant preparation. The final Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee report, released in June 2019, included eight recommendations to improve Jacksonville’s juvenile justice diversion practices. The first recommendation to transfer juvenile justice programming led to Kids Hope Alliance forming a Diversion Transition Committee that met for more than a year to build out a plan.
The city of Jacksonville gave $595,000 toward the transfer. Partnership for Child Health was awarded the contract for the Duval County Diversion System of Care in September 2020.
“When you know that 75 to 85% of youth involved in the justice system have mental health issues, we wanted to really make sure that we identify those mental health issues early,” said Vicki Waytowich, executive director of the Partnership. “We get kids into treatment and we ensure that they have the least amount of formal touches with the system and with more opportunities for rehabilitation based on their individual needs and then family needs.”
The Partnership is still hiring for the system and working with other organizations to set up help to pay for court fees, after school programs and psychosexual treatment. The Kids Hope Alliance is also preparing to do an analysis of gaps and needs still present in the system.
“We anticipate that they’ll find things that are missing from the system that maybe would be beneficial. Things like arts programs and cultural programs,” Waytowich said. “Diversion is short term. It’s not meant to be a long-term program. But what we want to be able to do is that when kids are done with us … maybe they satisfied their legal requirements, but they need more social intervention or they need more mental health intervention, that we have connected them to providers that can still work with them long term.”
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