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Youth programs face uncertain future after funding cuts

August 11, 2011
OSSIPEE— Several area youth programs will have to come up with new funding sources while at least one plans to shut its doors after funding cuts in the state budget.

For at least 24 years, programs throughout Carroll County and the rest of the state have been receiving money through NH Department of Health and Human Services called incentive funds.

Non-profits and municipalities competed annually in a grant process, vying for funds to help pay for youth programs. Local organizations that have received the most funding since 1986 include Appalachian Mountain Teen Project ($205,866), Children Unlimited ($151,785), Ossipee Children's Fund ($208,420), Ossipee Central School's Schools Out! Program ($57,529), and Carroll County Restorative Justice ($95,901).

Ossipee Recreation's Teen Sport Program has received $26,009 over the course of five years. That program is an extension to the department's very popular day camp program. The camp program serves children up to sixth grade in the summer months with a full-time field trip and activity program. The department's director, Peter Waugh, recognized a need to provide activities for teens in the summer that had aged out of the day camp program. With annual grant funding from the incentive funds, Waugh has been able to run the summer teen program that has been gradually building in attendance and this year had its highest enrollment numbers yet. The program had about 18 teens aged 13-17 enrolled this year and the group went on twice weekly adventures including canoe and tubing trips down the river, played paintball, visited the ocean and went to amusement parks. Waugh said he will be taking a careful look at his budget for next year to try to figure out a way to keep this growing program. While participants did pay a small fee to attend each week, Waugh said it is unlikely families could afford the full cost of the trips if there is no grant or other funding to help offset the cost. A quick review of the schedule reveals a total cost of the trips, not including transportation, tallies up to about $240 per teen.

Schools Out! Program Director Jen Berkowitz is remaining positive about the cut in funding to that program and said thankfully the funding for Ossipee Central School's afterschool program is very diversified, with several different funding sources. But, she acknowledged, funding sources are becoming more restrictive with the uncertain economic times, with less money to dole out to deserving programs.

Lance Zack of Carroll County Restorative Justice (CCRJ) is much less optimistic, however, as with the incentive funds now gone this program struggles to remain open through the next year and will soon close its doors. The program is for youth ages 11-17 who are first time, non-violent offenders in such crimes as vandalism, shoplifting, underage drinking or drug possession. Instead of these youth simply being arrested, going to court, and paying a fine resulting in a criminal record, the program offers an opportunity for youth to take responsibility for their actions which hopefully sets them on a track to not re-offend.

According to Zack, part of the process involves the victim of the crime being involved in the process. For example, the offender would meet with the victim to hear how the crime affected them and make amends through apology and repairing damaged property or performing some other community service.

Zack said state laws have changed to require that courts and counties provide this type of juvenile diversion but now the state funding has been eliminated that paid for the program. Zack said in Carroll County the program serves about 120 youth per year from both the northern and southern district courts. Zack said the program has proven very successful with youth offenders: those who have been placed on probation end up committing another crime 60 percent of the time while offenders who complete the diversion program reoffending only eight percent of the time. Each case that moves through the diversion program costs about $420 with state incentive funds paying about 80 percent of the cost and the offender paying the balance, said Zack. Comparatively, it costs about $1,800 to monitor a youth that is on probation.

According to the Web site www.nhcourtdiversion.org, there are 30 similar programs throughout the state. According to Zack, there are actually only 16 remaining and two more will be closing statewide. That Web site says about Restorative Justice, "Accountability and reparation are the hallmarks of juvenile court diversion. By following the spirit of Restorative Justice we involve the victim and the community in the justice process and make the offender accountable for repairing the harm he/she caused. These positive interactions, combined with education, can help offenders make positive and constructive choices in their lives."

Offenders often see at least one benefit from the program as once they complete it they will have no criminal record. This matters a great deal especially in drug and alcohol-related cases, said Zack, as a criminal record with either one of those offenses will mean college-bound students are not eligible for federal student aid.

Carroll County Restorative Justice as well as the similar program in Coos County are under the Tri-County Community Action Program umbrella. Zack said each county in the state handles their program differently including one county where the program is partially funded as part of the police department and in Belknap County it falls under the county budget.

CCRJ has already made cuts, including laying off some staff. Zack said CAP has committed to running the program through June 30, 2012 but without any new funding source, the program will likely not exist after that point. The program is not free for offenders. While the fee used to be $100, it has been raised to $200. As part of the program, offenders also have to make a plan to repay their parents or anyone else who loans them the money to enroll in the program.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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