Early Intervention for Youth Program

The Early Intervention for Youth program targeted high-risk youth (male and female) charged with serious offences. The program provided intensive, individual counselling to help young offenders develop anger-control and pro-social problem-solving skills. The program matched the Youth Justice Fund’s criteria of non-custodial measures that help rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders into mainstream society.

Established by the John Howard Society of Ottawa in 2000, the program was later extended through to July 2002. The assessment focused on this two-year period.

The John Howard Society of Ottawa is a non -profit, charitable organization that works primarily with individuals and families who are at risk of, or have already come into, conflict with the law. The Early Intervention for Youth program was largely based on an earlier project piloted by the Society.

The target group for the program was young offenders who exhibited high needs and were in jeopardy of being placed in custody or on long-term probation. To enter the program, the youth had to plead guilty and the court had to agree to postpone sentencing for at least three months. Some participants were already in open custody.

Most participants were referred to the program from court and probation officials and police. Group homes and custody facilities also referred some youths to the program. A single, full-time counsellor ran the program; the John Howard Society of Ottawa provided administrative support.

Once accepted to the program, a participant was assessed according to the Level of Supervision Inventory (LSI) checklist of 53 items. This inventory measures the level and type of services each participant needs.  A treatment plan, tailored to the particular needs of each participant, was then developed in collaboration with the individual, his or her parents, the probation supervisor and the counsellor.

Although each treatment was unique, all participants had to complete one or more of three modules:

  • Anger and emotions management
  • Pro-social problem solving
  • Attitudes awareness

Most participants attended at least one counselling session per week until they had completed their treatment plan. The counsellor reported all missed appointments to probation officials.

Project assessment

Charles Singer of FMP/Contextual Research conducted the evaluation. This consisted of a review of documents (project proposals and case files), along with interviews with the program counsellor, referral agencies and Department of Justice staff. In all, 226 participants were accepted into the program. Most (192) were male, and 80 percent of all participants were aged 16 or younger.

Key findings

When the evaluation was completed, 62 percent of all participants had completed the program. At three months and six months after admittance, many participants were assessed again using LSI. Median scores of eight and seven, respectively, were recorded. These indicate low levels of need. The median score of all participants upon entry to the program was 13, indicating a moderate level of need.

The evaluation determined that the program was extremely cost effective, accepted referrals quickly, and developed effective individualized treatment plans.

Interviews with referring agencies indicated an ongoing need for this type of service, particularly in the area of anger management.

Lessons learned

Several factors diminished the program’s impact:

  • Lack of Crown involvement: the original design called for Crown attorneys to refer high-risk youth to the program. For a variety of reasons, however, this did not occur.
  • Lack of needs assessment at discharge
  • Failure to directly address the special cultural and linguistic needs of participants
  • Lack of follow-up studies to determine long-term impacts on behaviour

Conclusion

The Early Intervention Youth Program met its objectives and provided counselling services in a cost-effective manner to more than 200 young offenders.

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