The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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A Range of Alternatives?
Madeline Legister

Minors who are charged with a crime are sometimes sent to “alternative-to-incarceration” or “alternative-to-placement” programs instead of juvenile prisons. The goal of these programs is to create a healthy environment in the child’s life and to teach young people how to control themselves, while also teaching their families a better way to do things.

There are several different kinds of alternative-to-incarceration programs. For example, there are Functional Family Therapy programs, in which a therapist meets with the family of the young person in their own house, usually once a week for about five months. This type of program helps the family members learn to trust and listen to one another. This sort of family intervention can sometimes help a kid stay on track.

Other types of alternative-to-incarceration programs remove the young person from his or her home. For example, in one program run by the Cayuga Home for Children in the Bronx, juvenile delinquents live with “host” parents for nine months, away from their real parents. The host parent is trained to enforce a set of rules. The teen must get signatures from all his teachers to prove that he went to school. The teen is not allowed to see his real parents or go home unless he shows that he’s following all the rules.

Sometimes, a judge might prefer to send kids to alternative programs like this rather than jail if it seems like the young person just needs another chance and more support. Alternative programs can also be a lot cheaper than sending someone to lockup.

Although they’re becoming more popular, these programs do have limitations. Some of the programs do not take kids who have been abusing drugs, who have mental illnesses, or who are sexually aggressive, and some programs only take kids who have a family member willing to participate.

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