The Missouri Department of Social Services, Division of Youth Services' (DYS) mission is clear: to protect communities from juvenile offenders in the Division's care and custody and to provide appropriate services to youth and their families.
The message may seem complex to some in a nation where recidivism amongst troubled youth is on the rise, and where those incarcerated spend their time served in boot camp atmospheres behind bars and surrounded by guards.
But this is not the case in Missouri where DYS has chosen to address the fundamental reasons why the delinquent behavior occurred in the first place.
In the Spring of 2010, DYS selected ARCHS to deliver its Community Mentoring Services Program (CMSP) to youth in the Greater St. Louis area. CMSP's goals are to decrease social isolation and exclusion, increase safety, increase stability and increase the control of choices and the meaningful use of mainstream resources. Simply put, help transform troubled youth into productive citizens and in return make positive changes in a community.
"ARCHS has outstanding connections with both agencies and informal and formal natural support networks, and a successful track record of managing transition partnerships, such as its experiences with adult (ex-offenders and welfare to work) transitions," said Tim Decker, Missouri's DYS Director. "As far as leveraging resources, we know that when we invest a certain amount, ARCHS will return a greater value and has the ability to monitor outcomes. By our partnering with ARCHS, there is a better chance to get better outcomes. It is sort of like an insurance policy."
Since the early 1970s, DYS has closed all of its larger institutional centers and replaced them with smaller residential treatment centers that have more of a developmental approach rather than a correctional one, Decker said. The Division's forward-thinking model is getting national attention (recent USA Today story) and earned them the 2008 "Harvard University Innovations in American Government Award." In addition, over 30 states have visited DYS centers since 2004 to bring ideas back home with them.
While DYS is successful at turning the lives of youth around, they find that in order for young people to be both law-abiding and productive, it takes a lot more than what a state agency can offer alone. DYS then turns to local partnerships, such as ARCHS, to fill the gaps.
"We have many youth who are successful. But also many who weren't. We have found that it is better if we can build on great efforts that are already out there," Decker said. "It increases our successes if we engage those networks that really have the more long-term impact in the development of the youth. Our partnerships have a great deal of expertise in engaging those natural support networks, because they deal with those immediate relationships such as families and school."
ARCHS has selected Fathers' Support Center to provide the mentoring services. Haley A-bel, the Center's Director of Youth Services, said she wants to help youth overcome the defeat they may feel and often believe can't be beat. "Basically, we want to help kids integrate back into the community and become productive citizens," A-bel said. "We will match them up with a mentor to help with one-on-one goals, group work and just give them an older person or adult they can go to so they don't make the same mistakes that got them into the DYS system in the first place.