Diversion Programs: Ensure Long-Term Sustainability

Keep it Going

  • Overview

    SecureTo sustain juvenile diversion programs over time, it is important to consider developing a sustainability plan along with the initial implementation plan. The sustainability plan can help to ensure that the diversion efforts and any other changes made along the way will be permanently adopted into your community.

    This section provides guidance on important aspects of sustainability to consider from the beginning of the implementation process, which includes addressing funding for continuation of the program, ongoing trainings for staff, developing key partnerships, conducting process evaluations, continually monitoring diversion efforts, and setting realistic goals along the way.

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  • Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research

    Steps to Take:  Lessons Learned from the Research

    Develop a sustainability plan.

    • Start planning for the long term now, which includes consideration of continued funding and other strategies that can institutionalize diversion in your community.
    • Develop partnerships among youth-serving agencies and service providers who will play a supportive role in diversion efforts.

    Provide ongoing training/support.

    • Provide ongoing trainings for staff to help renew enthusiasm for the program, refresh staff members’ skills and knowledge about the program, and orient those new to the program.

    Conduct ongoing evaluation of the diversion program.

    • Conduct regular process evaluations focused on program fidelity.
    • Conduct an outcome evaluation to determine if a diversion program is meeting the desired goals and objectives.
    • Set realistic expectations about when to anticipate a youth’s behavior change, and track short- and long-term outcomes along the way.
    • Develop a Sustainability Plan

      When implementing a juvenile diversion program, it is essential to consider how the program, if successful, will be maintained in the future. Without a realistic sustainability plan, all the hard work of program planning and implementation could be wasted.

      • Start planning for the long term now, which includes consideration of continued funding and other strategies that can institutionalize diversion in your community. Establishing a juvenile diversion program can take several years and often starts with initial funding from a federal or state agency (for more information on ensuring ongoing funding, see Procure Funding). By anticipating the end of this term-limited funding, and thinking about continued funding for your program early on, you can identify other ways to institutionalize the program. Early planning has the following advantages:

        • It will help you manage your funding and resources.
        • It shows key stakeholders (including juvenile justice staff, parents, and even youths) that the program is a priority in the local community. This alone may increase dedication to the program.

        For example, Durham County in North Carolina implemented the Misdemeanor Diversion Program (MDP), which is a pre-charge diversion program that targets 16- and 17-year-olds who, according to North Carolina law, are normally processed through the adult justice system. Durham County began by funding the MDP with county funds, which helped to support a part-time program coordinator. The program then received a 2-year Governor’s Crime Commission grant to make the coordinator position full time. Later, the county agreed to continue funding the program after the grant expired. This example shows how a community began with temporary, short-term funding, but planned ahead and made sure that a critical position (the program coordinator) would continue to receive funding, helping to ensure the program’s sustainability.

        There are other methods to ensure a program is sustainable, including:
        • continued training and support of staff members (described below);
        • data collection activities that regularly monitor the progress of the program (also described below);
        • memoranda of understanding and other documents between key partnerships (such as community-based treatment providers) to ensure lasting collaboration;
        • continued support from leadership, so that frontline staff understand diversion efforts are not a passing fad;
        • feedback mechanisms that can ensure those involved in diversion efforts (including parents and youths) are listened to if the program does not work as expected; and
        • the development of new policy and procedure manuals or revisions to current manuals.

        Regarding the last strategy, to ensure continued operation of their Responder Program (a school-based diversion program for youth at risk of referral to the juvenile justice system), the Summit County (Ohio) Juvenile Court developed a program manual and training materials, which formalized the program in participating schools and helped to promote replication of the program model in other schools. The court also secured funding from other sources such as general funds and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, to continue the program in the schools.

      • Develop partnerships among youth-serving agencies and service providers who will play a supportive role in diversion efforts. The involvement of key stakeholders, agencies, and organizations as planning partners can establish a foundation to support the program’s long-term success. The key partnerships can include collaboration among juvenile court, law enforcement, child welfare, school/education, mental health, substance use, and other relevant youth-serving agencies or organizations. Partnering with a variety of stakeholders can be a challenge, but it can also ensure that treatment and services for youths are continuous, and that youths’ identified needs are properly addressed by the agency or organization best equipped to provide help. The importance of partnerships can be seen in the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) in Michigan. The ADP provides a model of a long-term, mutual commitment among university faculty (who are primarily responsible for implementing the program), the juvenile court, and members of the community. For decades, the partners have worked together to find solutions to the community’s problems, engaged in careful investigation, and collaborated to implement and sustain the ADP.

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    • Provide Ongoing Training/Support

      Over time, program staff will need a refresher about the program components and goals, as well as additional support to continue delivering the program (for general information on training, see Provide Program Training).

      • Provide ongoing trainings for staff, to help renew enthusiasm for the program, refresh staff members’ skills and knowledge about the program, and orient those new to the program. . Ongoing trainings and refresher courses can take many forms, such as formal training from program developers or certified program staff, or informal meetings with staff members and program partners. Regular team meetings can offer opportunities for ongoing training and provide a forum to discuss successes and setbacks with the program. Holding meetings and trainings is especially important when different agencies, stakeholders, and jurisdictions are involved in the implementation of a program, as exemplified by a situation that arose with the Kent District’s Dual System Youth Pilot Program. After a probation counselor mistakenly mentioned during a meeting that Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social workers could issue warrants on dependent children who run away from placement, the agencies were provided with training to clarify what social workers can and cannot do, to dispel misconceptions. The evaluator noted that the cross training helped prevent future interagency conflicts that were somewhat common prior to the implementation of the program. This is also an example of a productive way to handle an unanticipated setback (for more information, see Handle Unanticipated Setbacks).

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    • Conduct Ongoing Evaluation of the Diversion Program

      Throughout the course of a program, assess how well the program is being implemented and how well the program is working to meet its goals. Regular assessments help to identify which elements of the program are easily and consistently being used, which are posing the greatest challenges, how the stakeholders feel about the program, and whether it is producing the desired effects.

      • Conduct regular process evaluations focused on program fidelity. A process evaluation seeks to determine if a program is operating as designed. Process evaluations serve as a starting point in determining how program efforts can be improved, and if the program is being targeted at the appropriate group of youths. A process evaluation can be as simple as a checklist of program elements for staff members to fill out (to ensure the amount of services are delivered as designed), or a more formal procedure such as observing staff members as they implement the program in the field (to ensure the quality of services are delivered as designed). Process evaluations also can include a feedback component for stakeholders to express their opinions about the program. To do this, you might hold focus groups or conduct surveys of youths and families to see how they view programming efforts. This information can help enhance engagement in the program and pinpoint areas for improvement.

        For example, the AMIkids Community-Based Day Treatment Services program has continuous improvement and effective service delivery built into its model. In this model, a collaboration of program leadership, team members, students, parents/guardians, and community stakeholders develop and monitor the Program Excellence Plan (PEP). This is a yearly process of evaluating process outcomes, setting goals, and building a blueprint for ensuring ongoing development and enhancement of each program and its designated services.

      • Conduct an outcome evaluation to determine if a diversion program is meeting the desired goals and objectives. Obviously, it is not efficient to fund a program that has not reduced delinquency, arrests, or other outcomes of interest—or worse, one that has increased problem behaviors. Before you decide to devote additional money and time continuing your diversion program, assess how the program is working through an outcome evaluation.

        There are important factors to keep in mind when conducting an outcome evaluation. First, it is beneficial to use an independent evaluator, as he/she can provide an unbiased perspective on how well the program is working. Secondly, determining how you will measure the desired goals of the program will be very important. If the goal of the program is to reduce recidivism, how you define recidivism and where you collect your data could impact your results. Recidivism could be measured as police contact or arrest, referral to juvenile court, or adjudication. You could measure recidivism over a short follow-up period (i.e., 3 months) or over a longer period (i.e., 12 months). There may also be other outcome measures you want to include in a program evaluation that are relevant to the program. For instance, if your program targets youths with mental illness, you may need to explore certain behavioral or mental health-related outcomes. Finally, if you conduct a rigorous evaluation that includes a comparison group, who you include in the comparison group will be very important. Trying to find a well-matched comparison group is important to ensure that the results you get are associated with diversion rather than other factors.

        The Texas Juvenile Justice Department planned for an evaluation of Front End Diversion Initiative (FEDI) to ensure that goals were met. An early evaluation showed that the participants were significantly less likely to be adjudicated than those who participated in traditional supervision. In addition, an online database was established for FEDI, to assist in data collection. There were minimum requirements also put into place to ensure data collection was properly conducted by each site. For example, each site had to enter data by the 10th of each month. Further, to ensure accuracy and completeness, program staff reviewed the online database monthly. This example not only shows the benefit of evaluating your diversion program, but also the importance of having data-collection strategies in place prior to the start of the program.

      • Set realistic expectations about when to anticipate a youth’s behavior change, and track short- and long-term outcomes along the way. Behavior change does not happen overnight. It often takes months for a program to improve behavior; therefore, you need to make sure enough time has passed before you conduct the first evaluation. If the initial evaluation suggests that the program is having a positive effect, you should conduct ongoing evaluations to determine if this effect continues (or fades away) over time. For example, when the Front End Diversion Initiative (FEDI) first began, the Strategic Intervention Group recommended tracking change and monitoring short- and long-term outcomes. Examples of short-term outcomes included 1) the delivery of specialized training to probation officers, 2) increased access to treatment for youths on the specialized caseloads, and 3) improved collaboration and linkages between probation and mental health agencies. Alternatively, examples of long-term outcomes included 1) improved youth and family functioning, 2) increases in cases diverted from juvenile court, and 3) decreases in youth adjudications. This example shows the importance of establishing both short-term and long-term goals, which will likely be very different.

      Other Useful Info...

      The Center for Public Health Systems Science, at Washington University in St. Louis, provides a free Program Sustainability Assessment Tool that communities can use when thinking about and planning for sustainability of their diversion program.

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