By Clarissa Mobley, Kentucky Youth Advocates intern

Crafting a family budget can be tough, especially when there are more monthly expenses than money coming in. Sometimes it comes down to buying groceries or paying the electricity bill on time. It may also mean having to take a second job to bring in more income. Similarly, crafting a state budget is about tough choices and setting priorities, especially in the face of drastic budget cuts. Kentucky families and children are counting on a state budget that invests in them.

The use of recent youth justice reform savings illustrates the power of smart investments in programs that work for kids and communities. Recently, representatives from the Youth Advocate Program (YAP) and the Louisville Day Treatment program presented to the Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee (JJOC) on reform savings’ reinvestment.

Youth Advocate Program

YAP is a strengths-based, family focused, culturally competent, community supported, wrap-around model that exemplifies how reform savings can be reinvested. YAP is designed to work with youth who are most at risk of getting into trouble and becoming stuck in the maze of the juvenile justice system. Follow up with families and youth who’ve completed the program in other cities shows that most participants are stable in communities or live in less restrictive environments. In fact, almost 82% of post-discharge individuals were not arrested between enrollment and their last date of contact after completing the program.

The program helps the youth and their family determine what discharge will look like from day one. Upon referral from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), an intake is completed to assess the individual needs of the child and family. YAP advocates are qualified individuals who live within the community of the youth, are trained to provide individualized interventions and support for the children and their families and are chosen carefully to ensure they can connect with the youth. Currently, there are 12 youth enrolled in the Lexington program and 22 in the Louisville program, and the program is expected to achieve a 50% reduction in incarceration.

At the JJOC meeting, one youth and his advocate testified in support of their positive experience with YAP. The youth stated that he needed and wanted someone to talk to, who would encourage him and discuss his goals to succeed. He encouraged other youth to get involved in the program, if they want to change their lives. His advocate stated that mentors are crucial to help kids continue their paths to be the best. The advocate shared that he truly wants what’s best for the youth, for him to be able to experience and see the world, to save him, and not see him die. Their bond showed the profound impact this program has had on the youth in helping him reach his fullest potential, becoming a productive member of the community, and ensuring a safer Commonwealth.

Louisville Day Treatment

Louisville Day Treatment is another program started with reform savings that works with high-risk youth who are probated and committed to DJJ. The treatment center opened in August 2017 and currently 48 youth are enrolled in this expanded and re-purposed youth prison facility. The program is for males and females in grades 9-12 and offers structured programming throughout the day, including vocational training. Youth can participate in certified apprenticeships where participants can earn certificates and are able to get a job in their communities when they leave the program. The program also works with employers to hire kids for a few hours a week where they can learn job skills and earn wages. Other services offered include group and individual counseling, after-school programs, GED recovery, and transportation services.

Our communities and the economy can only win when Kentucky kids and their families succeed. By making investments and utilizing reform savings in the most effective way, we can achieve better outcomes for youth and their families, as well as ensure safer communities.

Read more about building a budget for Kentucky kids here. View a one-pager on Kentucky state budget investments in kids here.

Read more about building Kentucky’s state budget here. View a full timeline of budget preparations here.