Youth Development and Diversion Services Update Presented To Las Cruces City Council
The Las Cruces City Council received an update on youth development and diversion services Monday. Youth Services Administrator Robert Nuñez says the three levels of programming cater to specific community needs, with classroom elements and community service requirements.
“Level ones are mostly truancy and runaways,” Nuñez said. “And then at two and three, it increases to battery and other Class 3 citations that we receive through the Juvenile Probation Office here in Las Cruces.”
Over a five-year period, the Juvenile Citation Program has worked with over 1,300 individuals across the three program levels—with a 92% program success rate. Nuñez estimates in fiscal year 2020, the program participant graduation rate was approximately 85%.
Nuñez says he has seen an increased need for mental health services in the individuals going through the program—something he attributes in part to the pandemic.
“I think our youth are in a very difficult situation right now,” Nuñez said. “We have seen an increase. Usually, our runaways and truancy are at our lowest level and we provide them that assessment and we work with our intake specialists and the families and the majority of them in years past have been at that level one. But just recently, sitting down with staff, is that we are seeing our youth coming in as a level two, level three.”
The pandemic has also played a role in the current staffing shortage occurring within the program. Historically, the program has had a presence at the Anthony Community Center, but a reduction in staff has led to an inability to devote in-person resources south of Las Cruces.
“Currently we are staffed at about 50%,” Nuñez said. “With our reduction of staff, we have been unable to go down south. So, we were requiring them to come north to Las Cruces to receive the classes.”
Nuñez notes staff will be reintroducing virtual components to make it easier for communities further south to participate in the program.
Despite the pandemic leading to a slight decrease in individuals moving through programing, Nuñez says he’s now noticing a trend of informal referrals.
“They are seeing a lot more informal referrals with families looking for specific services,” Nuñez said. “And also, public schools, counselors and administrators looking for them prior to them being cited to receive some type of service or seeing how they can help out.”
Over $308,000 has been awarded to the JCP program for fiscal year 2022 through a state grant agreement. Other monetary resources for the program include the city’s general fund.
Councilor Kasandra Gandara says county funds could be sought to expand resources even further.
“I want to make sure that from the general fund that this is a priority,” Gandara said. “I feel it's dire. And again, I think we do some excellent work, but I also think there's funding opportunities, a way by which to have a solid conversation with the county to provide funding because then we're able to serve more kids that really need this kind of help.”
Councilor Tessa Abeyta called for the creation of a resource guide prior to the summer session, to communicate youth programming options.
“Having strong programs and accessibility for these individuals to get to these programs is helpful for diversion,” Abeyta said. “Thinking what we can do, I think for the summertime, is making sure that we're communicating out as much as possible about these resources… and so this would be very good for us, I think to develop a resource guide.”
Councilor Gandara pointed to a few guides available as resources, citing SHARE New Mexico by name as one source for families.