In collaboration with many community stakeholders, Chase Home will launch the Seacoast Community Diversion Program (SCDP) on May 1 to provide youth who have committed minor offenses with an alternative to arrest or prosecution. Developed over the course of approximately 9 months, the program will provide a variety of services, including: assessments of individuals’ needs, individual, group and/or family counseling, substance abuse counseling, supervised recreational activities, and mentoring.
“There was a community diversion program based out of Greenland, but that closed sometime around 2010, which has left a significant gap in our support system for youth,” she said. “Research is very clear that youth who go through diversion programs experience much better outcomes. These outcomes could ultimately lead to savings in the community, too.”
Expressing a desire to include more prevention/early intervention programming at Chase Home, Wheeler cited a strong relationship with the Portsmouth Police Department as one of the initial motivators behind SCDP.
“We have a great working relationship with the Portsmouth Police Department and Sergeant Hester has been a very important piece in getting this set up,” she said.
SCDP collaborators include Chase Home, Portsmouth Police Department, New Heights, Portsmouth School System, Exeter School System, Rockingham Juvenile Court, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
SCDP will initially serve approximately 8 to 10 youth and their families in the immediate Portsmouth area, but expand to include Exeter and other towns. Noting they have secured some funding from both the private and public sector, Wheeler said they are currently working to become an accredited program within the NH Juvenile Court Diversion Network. Currently, there are 17 accredited diversion programs in the state.
One of several early collaborators in the program, New Heights will provide adventure-based opportunities to participants and their families, which distinguishes SCDP from similar programs. Tracey Tucker, executive director at New Heights, said their involvement stems from their belief in collaboration to solve community problems.
“Between the drug crisis and many youth engaging in riskier behaviors at younger ages, we need to create solutions together,” she said.
In looking ahead, Wheeler added there are still some unknowns, including the need for long-term funding. She did, however, express optimism that the need for a community diversion program in Portsmouth and surrounding towns will lead to a solution.
“We have a lot of people and agencies at the table,” she said. “By working together, I believe we are going to make this program sustainable for the long term. I believe we already have this next fiscal year covered, which is pretty amazing.”
Founded in 1877 as an orphanage, Chase Home has evolved through the years to meet needs in the greater Seacoast community related to children and youth. To learn more about the program, visit www.chasehome.org.