Diversion Programs: Get Stakeholder Buy-in

Bring in Reinforcements

  • Overview

    StartGetting “buy-in” refers to garnering support from various stakeholders to implement your diversion program successfully. Stakeholders are those involved in and potentially affected by the program, and may include

    • juvenile court judges and court services personnel;
    • prosecutors, juvenile defense attorneys, and public defenders;
    • mental health or treatment service providers;
    • law enforcement and juvenile probation officers;
    • school personnel;
    • victims;
    • parents and juveniles;
    • members of the community.
    Everyone involved will play different roles in the process; therefore, it is important to consider each of their needs when gathering support for your program.

    Keep in mind that not all stakeholders will be on board, due in part to the criticisms of diversion as a practice (for example, the belief that diversion programs do not hold youths accountable for their actions), the specific goals of the diversion program (for example, community members may prefer a more punitive approach over a diversion strategy), or overall resistance to change. Getting people on board may require meeting with stakeholders, providing the opportunity for people to express their concerns, and then making sure to address those concerns. While this will take extra time, securing the buy-in of key stakeholders is a critical step in implementing a program, as lack of support may cause barriers to the implementation process that are hard to overcome.

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  • Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research

    Steps to Take:  Lessons Learned from the Research

    Find a program champion to help secure support of the program.

    • Identify program champions who can help get support for the diversion program.

    Establish an implementation team.

    • Use an implementation team to enhance and guide the implementation process.

    Secure buy-in from leadership and frontline staff.

    • Collaborate with leadership to get their support for the diversion program.
    • Ensure buy-in from all parties who would be impacted by the implementation of a diversion program.

    Secure buy-in from parents and youths.

    • Ensure parents are involved in the process.
    • Address and overcome barriers to family engagement.
    • Ensure that youths do not feel pressured to participate.

    Secure buy-in from the community.

    • Present information or data about diversion programming to those who have concerns.
    • If implementing a restorative justice program, make sure to get buy-in from victims of juvenile crimes.
    • Find a Program Champion to Help Secure Support of the Program

      Having a program champion can help to ensure success of the implementation process. A program champion can be someone who not only secures support from the community, but also serves as the go-to person for any questions and concerns about the program. A program champion can also provide support and encouragement before and during the program’s implementation. Ideally, the program champion should be mission-driven/goal-oriented; qualified to manage people and processes; skilled at communication; experienced at building relationships; respected by others; and committed to the diversion efforts in your community.

      • Identify program champions who can help get support for the diversion program. It is important to identify a program champion at the specific point of contact where the diversion program would be implemented. For instance, if the program is diversion from court, the program champion should be a member of the court system, like a judge or probation officer supervisor. The Adolescent Diversion Program in New York State was created by a chief judge who wanted to promote a more age-appropriate approach to processing 16- and 17-year-old defendants (rather than holding them criminally responsible as adults). While awaiting formal legislative action on the matter, the chief judge created the ADP, which ended up being piloted in nine counties throughout the state. In this example, the chief judge served as the program champion, garnering support for the program and playing a critical role in the implementation process. At the beginning of the Indianapolis Family Group Conferencing Experiment, two police officers and the juvenile court judge in the city were supportive of the restorative justice approach, and helped to gain buy-in from court intake officers (who were key players in ensuring youths were diverted from court processing). In this example, the two officers and the juvenile court judge functioned as program champions, helping to both promote and sustain the implementation of the program.

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    • Establish an Implementation Team

      An implementation team (which could also be called an oversight committee) can help gain support for the program during the planning process and offer guidance once the program begins. The team should include a diverse group of individuals, including representatives of various agencies that will be impacted by decisions made about juvenile diversion efforts.

      • Use an implementation team to enhance and guide the implementation process. An implementation team is a core set of individuals responsible for guidance throughout the entire implementation process. This team ensures support for the intervention, increases readiness, monitors outcomes, and addresses barriers. Because diversion programs tend to involve collaboration among various government departments and community-based organizations, it is important that the implementation team include staff from youth-serving agencies that will be involved in diversion efforts such as representatives from juvenile justice (including courts, corrections, probation, and State Advisory Groups), law enforcement, child welfare/children and families, mental health/substance use, education, and community-based treatment providers.

        For example, in the late 1990s, Miami-Dade County (Florida) developed Juvenile Assessment Centers (JACs), which provided a single-point processing center for arrested youths. The development of the JACs led to the establishment of the JAC Partnership, which included representatives from all juvenile justice stakeholders in the county, including:
        • the Miami-Dade Police Department,
        • the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice,
        • the Florida Department of Children and Families,
        • Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office,
        • Miami-Dade Department of Human Resources,
        • Miami-Dade Department of Corrections,
        • Miami-Dade Administrative Office of the Court,
        • Administrative Juvenile Judges, and
        • the Miami-Dade Office of the Clerk of Court.

        The partners were active in the 3-year planning and implementation process to develop the JAC. The partners also addressed important issues related to diversion such as the tendency to “widen the net” of youths who were coming into contact with the juvenile justice system, and the need to properly screen them with standardized, validated risk assessments. As part of the efforts to address the net-widening problem, the Post Arrest Diversion (PAD) program was established for juveniles who commit first-time, nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses to reduce their involvement in the juvenile justice system.

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    • Secure Buy-In from Leadership and Frontline Staff

      Getting support from leadership and frontline staff is crucial. While those in leadership positions can make decisions about which programs will be implemented and which resources can be devoted to the program, frontline staff will be directly involved in the implementation of the program.

      • Collaborate with leadership (such as county executives or mayors, juvenile court judges, directors of court services, or directors of probation services) to get their support of the diversion program. One approach to securing buy-in from those in leadership positions is to organize meetings to discuss the need for implementing a diversion program, the goals and desired outcomes of a diversion program, and how the program would address identified problems in your jurisdiction. The meeting should address any concerns or hesitations that leadership might have about the program, and convey the benefits of implementing diversion for the justice system, youths, and the community. For example, the Indianapolis Family Group Conferencing Experiment began with a series of meetings between research staff involved in the project and court service personnel, including the juvenile court judge, the county prosecutor, the chief of police, the sheriff, and the mayor. The meetings provided an opportunity for everyone involved to share their concerns about the project, reach a consensus about how the project should be run, and ensure a smooth implementation process. Moreover, the meetings also discussed plans for conducting a fair but rigorous evaluation of the program.

      • Ensure buy-in from all parties who would be impacted by the implementation of a diversion program. It is important to secure buy-in not just from those in positions of leadership, but also from frontline staff who will be implementing most of the program. For diversion programs implemented in court-based settings, frontline staff would likely include court service personnel, intake officers, probation officers, and other justice personnel.

        An example of a program that required buy-in from all involved parities was the WISE Arrest Diversion Program. Those involved in the program included a representative from the school district, the police chief, representatives of community-based youth-serving organizations, and the program diversion coordinator. Buy-in for this program was maintained by requiring frequent meetings with all involved parties to review cases for inclusion, and deciding unanimously that a case was appropriate for diversion. These regular meetings provided an opportunity for all stakeholders to develop a shared vision about diverting appropriate cases, with the goal of keeping students in school.

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    • Secure Buy-In from Parents and Youth

      In contrast to the traditional processing of juveniles in the justice system (in which sentences are imposed upon youth), many diversion programs are voluntary. This can be beneficial to the diversion process, as youths may feel empowered and more involved in the decisions being made about their case. Therefore, it is important that youths feel that they are not being coerced into participating. However, the voluntary nature of diversion programs can also be a challenge because it requires a commitment to participate in services and fulfill the requirements of the program. Also, youth may not see the alternative to diversion (i.e., formal processing) as an equal option because of the potential consequences of being processed, such as having an official record.

      In response to research highlighting the benefits of family involvement in diversion programs, almost all diversion programs require parental consent, with some even requiring parental involvement. For example, one meta-analysis of studies on diversion programs found that family-based programs (e.g., the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) in Michigan) were associated with significant reductions in recidivism, compared with other types of diversion programs (such as those that are primarily case management).

      • Ensure parents are involved in the process. Often, diversion programs will require the participation of parents and family. For example, the Special Needs Diversionary Program (SNDP), which targets juvenile probationers with mental illnesses, requires parents or guardians to participate. At the beginning of the program, treatment plans are prepared with input from the juvenile, family, and mental health professional. Near the end of the program, the service team, the juvenile, and family members work together to develop another plan to increase support from the community and family once the formal services have ended. This program illustrates the important role that family members can play in the implementation of diversion programs.

        For some programs, however, there is a coercive element that may affect parental support and involvement. One example is the Indianapolis Family Group Conferencing Experiment. Although participation in the program is voluntary, youths or their parents rarely refuse to participate, since their cases would then be processed in juvenile court. Because they may feel pressured to participate, this approach could lessen parental buy-in and support; therefore, is important for communities to aim for legitimate parental support when implementing a diversion program.

      • Address and overcome barriers to family engagement. The participation of family members in diversion programs can increase the likelihood of successful interventions. However, getting families to engage can be a significant challenge, as some families may have negative feelings about the system based on prior experiences. Families may schedule appointments, but not show up; others might come infrequently, or not at all. Research has shown that families with younger children are more likely to engage in services than families with older children, and that families of black youths are less likely to continue involvement in services than families of white youths. Other barriers to family engagement include family functioning (i.e., values, norms, communication, affective expression), denial of problems, concerns about privacy, and socioeconomic status which could cause transportation-related issues.

        Using motivating factors appropriate to the context and situation of a family can help to overcome the barriers to family engagement. For example, one approach for youth substance use treatment is the Strategic Structural System (SSS). SSS involves analyzing the structure of the family to identify 1) which family members would be most resistant to services, and 2) which family members would control the family’s decision to engage in treatment. The therapist then works directly with the family member with the most control to engage the rest of the family, thereby building rapport. Using this approach, results have indicated that 93 percent of youths and their families engaged in treatment, when compared with the control group (42 percent); and 77 percent of youths completed treatment, compared with the control group (25 percent).

      • Ensure that youths do not feel pressured to participate. It is important to make sure youths feel they have the option to participate (or not) in diversion programming and do not feel pressured. If they feel coerced into participating, they may be less willing or motivated to complete program activities, which could also impact how likely they are to change their behavior. For example, in a study on the Minneapolis Center for Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM), close to 90 percent of juveniles felt their participation in the mediation program was voluntary. Though this is a high percentage, it also means that 10 percent of the youths did not believe that participation was voluntary (even though it was). In speaking with juveniles and their parents about diversion programming, you should therefore make it clear that participation is voluntary and not mandated.

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    • Secure Buy-In from the Community

      Make sure you have support from the community to implement a diversion program. Community members, including the victims of juvenile crime, may feel that diversion represents a risk to public safety and that juveniles are not being held accountable for their actions. This concern should not be easily dismissed, as a lack of support from the community could mean a loss of funding or other resources.
      • Present information or data about diversion programming to those who have concerns. One way to address concerns about diversion is to provide information from research and program evaluations about the benefits and advantages of diverting youths from the juvenile justice system. For example, a cost–benefit analysis conducted on the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) in Michigan showed that the program saved over $1 million per year and served close to 150 juveniles who otherwise would have been processed through traditional court services. Similarly, there are a number of program evaluations that show participation in diversion programming results in significantly better outcomes for youths (including reduced rates of recidivism), compared with youths who are processed through the juvenile court system. Focusing on benefits, such as cost savings and reduced crime, can help to increase community support for the diversion program.

      • If implementing a restorative justice program, make sure to get buy-in from victims of juvenile crimes. For restorative justice programs, such as Indianapolis Family Group Conferencing Experiment, Canberra Reintegrative Shaming Experiments, and the Minneapolis Center for Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM), the victim is involved in the programming. Many restorative justice programs rely on the victim to voluntarily participate in the conferences or mediations with the juvenile who committed the offense, which can be beneficial for both parties. For example, a study of the Minneapolis VOM found that victims who participated in the mediations were significantly less upset about the crime, were less afraid of being revictimized, and indicated greater satisfaction with the processing of their cases, compared with victims who had not participated in mediation. While this research indicates that diversion programs that use a restorative justice model can also benefit victims, it is still crucial to ensure that victims do not feel as if they have been forced into the process.

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