“We have very strong partnerships between school, police, probation, but parental engagement is huge,” he said. “We’re a team, local law enforcement, parents, schools, social workers, other agencies. . . . It takes a village. I check in with my regional DYS guy two, three, times a week.
“We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and our chief is committed to keeping kids and the community safe. It’s not about handcuffs, it’s about keeping kids on the right path.”
Crystal Collier, director of operations for the Department of Youth Services’ central region, said she has also seen a reduction in the number of juveniles in the DYS system and believes it is the result of preventative work being done by agencies across the state.
The numbers bear it out. In 2002, the DYS census showed 3,300 youngsters in the system under the age of 18. By 2009, that number was 1,637, and in 2011, it was 1,288.
“There’s a lot of good work being done on the front end,” Collier said. “Department of Children and Families, schools, probation, and juvenile court all work to try to provide kids with the appropriate services to keep them out of detention.”
Collier singled out the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative as a major factor. The initiative has been active in Massachusetts since 2006, trying to match youths with the services they need.
“We’re thinking about, is jail the right place for this kid? What are their risks? What’s driving this behavior? If we can catch and identify issues early enough, we can prevent the snowball effect,” she said.
Jim Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.