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2 ways Wyoming afterschool programs help youth in the justice system

By Elizabeth Tish

Last month, the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance hosted representatives and program leaders from more than 100 organizations in the juvenile justice field from across the state of Wyoming at their Statewide Summit on Juvenile Justice. Attendees included city and state government officials, youth service providers, prevention coalition members, and many other leaders from across the state.

Over the course of the day, experts in juvenile justice and afterschool spoke about ways to develop opportunities for youth in the justice system to succeed and thrive, engaging both juvenile justice and afterschool professionals. Resources from the event are accessible through the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance.

Here are two ways Wyoming afterschool programs are working with the juvenile justice system to benefit kids.

Putting community service to work in afterschool

Shannon Christian runs an afterschool program called Worland Youth Learning Center in Washakie County, Wyo. When the Worland Youth Services Coalition reached out to ask if she would like to host juvenile offenders completing their community service time, she said yes.

High school students serving community service hours start with janitorial duties and an opportunity to demonstrate that they understand the program’s rules. Afterwards, they work with paid program staff to implement the curriculum, whether that means playing games or providing academic help for students.

Christian explained that these hours give the students an opportunity to explore a new path, as they start in the program with a clean slate. Many students have enjoyed working in the program so much that they have decided to pursue work in youth development and have applied to work at the program.

Serving on a community board to provide service for juveniles

Steve Hamaker, executive director of Greater Wyoming Big Brothers Big Sisters, works with Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent and a variety of other community stakeholders to determine how to keep kids from entering the juvenile justice system and coordinating services for those who do. Once a week, the Community Juvenile Services Board gathers at a local school to discuss the best way to serve those students, including the school, county prosecutor, afterschool program, and others.

Hamaker explained that this board works together, creating a system of “cross-agency support, rather than competition and turf issues.” Board members can bounce ideas off each other, creating a community where afterschool works with other agencies together to best serve their kids.

In addition to creating a robust system of supports through collaboration, being part of the board allows Big Brothers Big Sisters to learn about trends in the juvenile justice arena and respond to them through programming. For example, if they learn about increased drug use or teen suicide threats, the program may respond through educational community programs to keep their kids safe. If the board determines together that there is a gap in services, they work together to figure out how to fill that gap.

Through the board, Hamaker said, the entire community is able to step up and do everything they can to help community members get on the right track.

Stay tuned: in June, the Afterschool Alliance will host a webinar on how afterschool programs can partner with law enforcement to build community and positive relationships between police and youth.