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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 25th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 17

Grant will fund county probation's youth diversion efforts

By Kasey Bubnash

Kids struggling with behavioral issues will be able to access services aimed at keeping them out of the juvenile justice system at no cost because of a $795,000 grant that was recently awarded to the Santa Barbara County Probation Department. 

Santa Barbara County has been working to better aid at-risk youth and their families through its juvenile detention system since the Probation Department launched an internal investigation and data mining project in 2017. The project included months of auditing juvenile cases, comparing county data, and researching possible policy and practice reforms. The department found that Santa Barbara County kids were being detained and put under county supervision at disparately high rates compared to other counties of the same size. 

Since then, the Probation Department has made gains in its efforts to detain fewer kids, specifically those with behavioral problems rooted in untreated mental health issues, unaddressed abuse, and trauma—who pose little or no threat to public safety.

 In April, the Probation Department announced that it was among 16 organizations from across the nation chosen to attend a national training dedicated to reimagining juvenile justice. Just months later on June 14, the California Board of State and Community Corrections announced it would award the department with a four-year, $795,000 Youth Reinvestment Grant.

“It’s an exciting opportunity and sits in very well with all the other initiatives we’ve been rolling out since the data mining,” said Holly Benton, Santa Barbara County’s deputy chief probation officer.

During its internal investigation, Benton said the county Probation Department found that while diversion programs and services do exist, there aren’t any that are offered to struggling kids at no cost to their families. That made those programs unpopular and largely unsuccessful. 

Using the grant, Benton said the Probation Department hopes to divert hundreds of local youth through partnerships with the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (CADA), law enforcement, schools, and community members. 

Benton said the grant will largely be used to fund diversion programs—processes of analysis and treatment that get kids with behavioral issues the help they really need, like family counseling or mental health treatment—that will be offered to struggling kids and their families at no cost. 

Part of the grant, Benton said, will also help fund a UC Santa Barbara study into the county’s updated diversion system, so that the department can determine whether the system is leading to fewer misdemeanors among local youth, and if it’s successfully keeping children from making repeated contacts with law enforcement. 

The Probation Department is just beginning its work with CADA, and Benton said the new diversion system likely won’t be up and running fully until fall. 

—Kasey Bubnash




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