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Division of Youth Services enjoys quality union with Rite of PassageDate: 05/15/2017
ALEXANDER – The Department of Human Services (DHS) partnership with Rite of Passage is an ideal model of a successful union between a public agency and private organization.
ROP – which operates the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center on behalf of the Division of Youth Services – uses the concept of normalcy to holistically treat AJATC clients. While at the center, students are taught the importance of empathy, integrity and work ethic while obtaining an accredited education and the judgment skills needed to excel upon transitioning to their home community.
"What many people don't realize is that our students are just kids,” said AJATC Principal Dr. Martha Wall-Whitfield. “They crave the normalcy of simple things like changing classes, eating ice cream, and engaging in sports after school.”
The center, located in Alexander, is one of eight residential juvenile treatment programs in Arkansas. Governed by the DHS Division of Youth Services (DYS), the juvenile assessment treatment centers are for youth who have committed a serious offense. After youth complete their treatment at the facility, they return home to their communities while receiving aftercare services to help ensure a successful transition.
Working in collaboration with DYS, ROP has focused on creating an environment akin to that of a traditional school.
"We're happy with the things they're doing, providing mentorship and positive role models for the youth,” said Adam Baldwin, DYS Manager for System Reform. “They're focused on normalcy and treating the youth as students instead of inmates. It's called Strength Based Programming and research shows it’s critical to successful rehabilitation of justice-involved youth.”
In regard to healthy, beneficial relationships, there’s a solid rapport between ROP employees and the students. Instead of the youths being under the surveillance of guards, they’re surrounded by mentors and coaches. The center also offers intramural activities such as: soccer, basketball, flag football, and cheerleading.
"Anything that supports healthy, positive relationships as part of a larger group, these kinds of things are good for kids," Baldwin says. “Normalcy is the most important thing. It shouldn't feel like a jail. It should feel like a school."
ROP fuses athletics into the treatment as a method of helping students learn valuable lessons about teamwork and developing healthy, positive relationships – something many of them need help doing, which is often what brings them into the juvenile justice system to begin with. Youths at DYS facilities across the state are also able to take the ACT or GED and enroll in various vocational programming.
Wall-Whitfield recognizes the importance of providing a safe, normalized environment for youth as a foundation that will help them to learn and overcome problematic behaviors.
“Sadly – for some of our kids – this is the first time ever that they’ve been fed regularly and have had a safe place to sleep or shower,” she said. “These kids are survivors and they deserve the best we have to offer, which are the tools to create a better life.”
“There can't be a totally separate environment that doesn't connect with the outside world,” Baldwin said. “That’s because youth in our facilities are eventually going home and we want our programs to teach them how to be successful in the real world.”
Cutline: In the photo, Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center Principal Dr. Martha Wall-Whitfield presents a Rite of Passage shirt to Perry Black, pastor of Family Church Bryant, after he provided a motivational address to a group of AJATC students.