December 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW1

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Diversion Excursion

Two juvenile diversion programs are described as conducted by county 4-H/Youth Development Agents in Kentucky and Ohio. The purpose is to share ideas and insights with others who might be considering conducting similar programs. Ten "Qualities Needed to Conduct a Juvenile Diversion Program" are shared, which include: [a] Get on their level; [b] Know when to refer; [c] Be organized; [d] Know the subject matter; [e] Model what you teach; [f] Listen; [g] Be Sensitive; [h] Be Adaptable; [i] Schedule sessions close together; and [j] Do not label. Also, four other problem area factors that youth agents should realize before the initiation of a juvenile diversion program are emphasized.


Thomas M. Archer
County Extension Agent, 4-H
Ohio State University Extension
Shelby County
Sidney, Ohio
Internet address:

Lourrae Ewbank
County Extension Agent, 4-H
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Kentucky
Campbell County
Highland Heights, Kentucky
Internet address:

Diversion Excursion - An Overview

One of the current highly verbalized means of reaching new clientele with Extension youth development is through 4-H juvenile court diversion programs. These are attractive because the new clientele are "At Risk" youth. Such an audience is popular with Extension administration as well as local, state, and federal resource allocators.

4-H juvenile diversion consists of mandating full participation in a planned series of group and individual educational experiences (classes) for first time offenders of the juvenile court. Participants are generally 12-15 years old. The diversion may be an alternative to formal court, a substitute for normal sentencing, or it may be reduction in sentence and/or a termination of a probation period.

The completion requirements include many of the following: [a] Attendance at 15-25 hours of classroom/activity; [b] Participating in a group 4-H club experience; [c] Completion of at least one 4-H project; [d] Attendance of one or both parents in an activity or activities; [e] Individual consultation with the participant; [f] Monitoring of participants by a juvenile court probation officer or juvenile judge.

Parallel 4-H juvenile diversion programs are being conducted in two states. One program is conducted in a rural county in western Ohio. Seven two hour sessions are included in each cycle. The first hour of each session, a classroom type session is held. Topics include self-esteem, values, stress reduction, interpersonal communication, goal setting, problem solving, peer pressure, and challenges and choices.

During the second hour, a traditional 4-H club is organized, with election of officers, business meetings, recreation, and refreshments. In addition, each participant is required to complete a 4-H project, such as bicycles, woodworking, natural resources, or photography. At the end of the last session, an achievement meeting is held, with parents and families invited, as well as court personnel.

In the other program, conducted in northern Kentucky, the 4- H agents work with Court Designated Workers (CDWs) to provide a diversion program for first or second-time juvenile offenders. In Kentucky juvenile offenders who are sent to the CDW program are not adjudicated - meaning they have not been convicted. If the juvenile successfully completes the diversion, the result is a clean record. The diversion option in the 4-H program was a program called "Being All You Can Be". This program is a ten session, self-esteem project which is led by 4-H agents, CDWs, and volunteers for a group of 5-10 juvenile offenders.

Qualities Needed to Conduct a Juvenile Diversions Program

These two juvenile diversion programs have been used to generate guidelines and considerations for others who may be making a determination whether to pursue such a program in their own locale. These thoughts have been summarized in the following:

Quality 1 - Get on their level. The instructor/advisor/manager of a juvenile diversion program must be a better than average teacher who, either by direct experience or extensive research, gains a full appreciation and realization of the background and environment of every participant.

Quality 2 - Know when to refer. Although Extension workers have many talents, they are NOT social workers, spiritual leaders, psychologists, probation officers, or psychiatrists. Situations may arise during the juvenile diversion experience which exceed the scope and expectations of such a Diversion program. Preparation and familiarization with the above professionals and their expertise is a pre-requisite.

Quality 3 - Be organized. Plan, prepare, anticipate. Always have alternative activities in case a planned activity "does not fly". Start on time and end on time. Be sure to fully utilize allotted time, especially early in the program.

Quality 4 - Know the subject matter. Nothing can invalidate your effectiveness more than the participants' realization that you do not know what you are talking about. This may be especially difficult for those 4-H projects/subjects that the instructor has no prior knowledge. This will require additional prep time or limiting the number of different kinds of 4-H projects in which participants are permitted to enroll. It does require complete understanding and comprehension if the core topics such as communication, conflict management, goal setting, self-esteem, and problem solving.

Quality 5 - Model what you teach. Less than positive instructor behavior in a mandatory "behavior modification" program becomes overly magnified. Likewise, "model" behavior becomes exactly that. Such behavior could be the first and only positive example that a participant encounters in his/her daily life.

Quality 6 - Listen to the participants' point of view. Active listening and complete communication are even more important with participants who have the common background of a first time juvenile offense. If you truly listen to their point of view, they will be more likely to listen to you.

Quality 7 - Be sensitive to the individuals within the group. Although attendance is mandatory and completion of individual 4-H projects is necessary, forced activity within a class period is not recommended. Participants should be given the option to "pass". However, every approach possible should be incorporated into each class period for opportunity for participation.

Quality 8 - Be adaptable/flexible. Even though this is primarily a group experience, it is a small group experience, and much of the work is one-on-one. More attention must be given individual differences, as well as difference between groups.

Quality 9 - Schedule lessons close together. It appears that the juvenile diversion program is more effective if individual sessions are scheduled closer together. Such continuity better reinforces the subject matter, the role-model posture of the instructor, and the group/club cohesiveness.

Quality 10 - Do not label. There is some school of thought that it is even better not to know the offenses which the individual participants have committed. That is, the less background known prior to the program, the less bias the instructor might have. It is sufficient to know the general pre-requisite to be assigned to the juvenile diversion program, and to become acquainted with the individual differences as the program progresses.

Other Factors to Realize

[1] Numbers will NOT be huge. A maximum of ten per course, and five courses per year is probably all a professional can handle. Extension administration should recognize this.

[2] Realize that you are NOT going to change someone in 15- 25 hours. It is helpful to keep in mind that you will NOT be able to shape/change attitudes and behavior, but perhaps you will be able to help these youth know some things about managing their attitudes and behavior. After all, it took these people 12-15 years to get to this point in their lives.

[3] There are other problems which still need to be addressed/ overcome:

{a} This program needs to be more "activity" oriented. Most existing materials are paper and pencil, and these participating youth may have trouble reading or expressing themselves. It is important to have things to see, feel, and experience. Good videos with a maximum length of 20 minutes are also helpful.

{b} Attendance. For a variety of legitimate and not so legitimate excuses, youth will miss sessions. Make-up or alternate sessions must be held.

{c} Parental involvement. Such parental attitude may have been a contributing factor for why a youth is in juvenile diversion. Therefore involving parents in juvenile diversion related activities is generally more challenging.

[4] There are benefits/advantages other than the obvious. The most enjoyed parts of the program are the 4-H club projects and activities. The transition to 4-H club activities and individualized 4-H projects is easily recognized. Such an observation reinforces the value of traditional 4-H.

Another benefit is the increased network of professional contacts/resources for the Extension professional. New vocabularies, systems, organizational structures and ideas expand the knowledge base and creativity of Extension personnel.


The greatest asset of a 4-H juvenile diversion program is that it is a collaborative effort. There is an opportunity for local Extension personnel to address an "At-Risk" audience during afternoon hours while working with other social science professionals. Juvenile diversion requires significant inputs of time and collaboration, but will not yield high contact numbers, and the real impact of such programs has not been documented.