Families of young people adjudicated to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ Juvenile Services will soon have a new statewide option that would allow their children to remain in the home.

Functional Family Therapy is a new program slated for rollout on Feb. 6 that would give juveniles and adolescents that have passed through the court system into Juvenile Services an intensive treatment option conducted in their homes by therapists contracted by the state. The program would provide therapy services free of charge as an alternative to out-of-home placement.

The therapy sessions would last four months and teach young people, ages 11 to 18, and their families skills that include communication, problem solving, conflict resolution and effective parenting during weekly 60- to 90-minute sessions.

Katrina Pollet, executive director of the Finney County Department of Corrections, said eligible youth can be court ordered into the program, or they can enroll as a condition of their probation through one of the intensive supervision officers at the Juvenile Detention Center after taking an assessment.

“It’s probably one of the most exciting things I’ve seen happen in 22 years,” Pollet said, “because we’re finally admitting that we need to work with the family as a whole, and we’re finally going to have some funds from the state to do it.”

Pollet said the program is funded through the KDOC as a response to the exorbitant expenses involved in out-of-home placement.

“Right now, we have kids in Wichita, Lawrence, Topeka, Junction City, Jetmore, Satanta … ” Pollet said. “We need them right here, so we can help the family. These therapists are going to go home and sit down with them, not in a judgmental way, but in a way that helps them to change how it is that everybody is getting their needs met.”

According to Pollet, the program would be best suited to young people ages 14 to 17 to prevent adolescents from continuing bad habits that might lead to further criminal offense as adults.

State split into thirds

The program will be administered by three separate organizations delegated to three regions of the state — northeast, southeast and west central.

The west-central region includes 10 judicial districts: the 15th, 17th, 23rd, 25th, 24th, 20th, 16th, 27th, 30th and 26th districts, which span more than half the state.

Emberhope, a Wichita-based nonprofit, faith-based agency specializing in residential, foster care, independent living, parenting classes, adoption and counseling services, will oversee administrative measures of the FFT program throughout the west-central region.

Pollet said Emberhope would have therapists based in Hutchinson, Hays and Garden City that will be responsible for travel to each of the 52 counties in the west-central region. Pollet added that each therapist's caseload would be between five and 12, “so that they can really give that family that attention over that four-month period.”

She added that there would be between three and eight facilitators or psychologists with master’s level social work experience who are trained in family therapy to administer the services.

According to Emberhope.org, the FFT program is an evidence-based, highly effective model proven to reduce recidivism by 25 to 30 percent while increasing parental supervision and involvement.

The scale of the coverage and the limited number of appointed therapists thus far still remains a concern, but Pollet said the number of therapists would increase as time goes on.

She added that with the caseload she currently has, Finney County alone would take up all of the allotted therapists’ availability. That is just one of the 52 counties the therapists will be responsible for starting Feb. 6.

“I do not think they’ve thought ahead of the drive time and how many therapists are going to be needed because this is a huge need,” Pollet said.

Staffing patterns

Speaking on behalf of Emberhope, Randy Bowman, director of Community-based Services for the KDOC, said in an email that staffing patterns are defined by certification requirements in the program’s model.

He said national experts specializing in the delivery of the FFT program would train Emberhope personnel, who would receive ongoing support and assistance with implementation and be monitored by those same experts in accordance with the program model.

Bowman said also that no concerns have been raised about the plan proposed by Emperhope to serve youth across the west-central region, adding that the certification entity involved already has worked with the program’s vendor in southeast Kansas, Eckerd, Inc., for the past year.

He said the KDOC contract monitoring process will seek to identify any issues with delivery of FFT services and work to resolve them if they occur.

Local numbers

Pollet said Community Corrections and Juvenile Detention in Finney County already are busy, with 66 youths on probation, not including those who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime.

She added that there are 40 young people enlisted in a correctional program that would allow them to forego arraignment and a possible conviction through organizations and classes such as WhyTry and Something for Nothing.

According to Pollet, this is one of the first concerted efforts by lawmakers to address criminal offenses on the front end of the spectrum when offenders are still relatively young. She said the state has historically stripped funds from organizations such as Russell Childhood Development Center that could act as preventative buffers for at-risk youth and have instead focused their energies on adult prisons and adult crimes.

“But they’re finally seeing,” Pollet said. “Let’s stop it here at this age bracket, the 14 to 17. So I’m hoping that someday they’re going to see, we need to put more money into prevention.”

The new measure is part of SB367, which was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback on April 11, 2016. Provisions are slated for gradual rollout. Some took effect on July 1, 2016, and others will take effect as late as July 1, 2019.

The bill serves as a comprehensive overhaul of operating procedures in the juvenile justice system. One amendment to current operating procedures that became effective Jan. 1 necessitates a court-appointed multidisciplinary team that would specialize in youth intervention and prevention through coordinated measures such as the new statewide FFT program.

As of yet, local court officials haven’t been apprised of the specifics involved in the program’s curriculum, but Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier said a private meeting is scheduled next week with various department heads.

Pollet said the program would save “a lot of money,” citing a figure she believes is around $8 million, both at the Juvenile Detention Center and the Community Corrections Building as children see more opportunities to remain in their households as opposed to being held at the detention center or in out-of-home placement.

“The less people we have that are going to need our services, the more money we save, and you usually save the money via staff,” Pollet said.

The juvenile center in Garden City is the only one in western Kansas, according to Pollet. She said the next closest is located in Hutchinson, and it only has 10 beds.

With the introduction of SB367, the population at community corrections and juvenile detention has been put into constant flux, with the overall result being a lower population.

“One day last week, we had 15 kids,” Pollet said. “Today we have six. So it’s all over the place. We’re mandated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to have so many staff on.”

While the rollout for the program is coming soon, Pollet said there is not any kind of preliminary enrollment option. But she said she is working to identify potential families to contact about eligibility upon launch, and families have been notified.