The recently adopted juvenile offenders program, Functional Family Therapy, will positively impact the Dodge City Community.

Kansas Department of Corrections announced the adoption of Functional Family Therapy (FFT) as a statewide program on Tuesday. This program allows better treatment of juvenile offenders and their families and eases the workload of childcare service providers in Dodge City.

“The purpose is to help keep kids in their communities and in their homes to receive the services we were lacking, especially in southwest Kansas,” said Stanna Unruh, Intensive Supervision Officer for the Juvenile Division at Santa Fe Trail Community Corrections. “Topeka’s taken several steps to send more variety of services towards us so that we don’t have to send (youth) elsewhere either in placements or other facilities.”

This program opens doors for many local juvenile offenders and their families who might not have been able to receive services otherwise. 

“Family Functional Therapy isn’t a new idea, but it’s equivalent of in-home family counseling,” said Unruh. “Although we do have many great providers from this area, and we do have some that will provide that service, there’s usually a long waiting lists and heavy caseloads.

“I think the majority of the services in this area tend to go to child in need of care cases, which is good, but we tend to put the juvenile offenders on the back burner for those type of services. I think this will be a way to help start hitting the juvenile offenders and not overburden those programs for those child in need of care for neglect and abuse cases.” she noted.

The program is available strictly to youth who were referred by the Juvenile Division. 

“For us to do a referral, it’s any client we’ve had. It can be clients that were out of home, never been in home or first-time offenders, but they have to currently be in their home placement,” said Unruh. “We have a youth level of service screening that we do on all clients every six months that determines their risk level. It determines the level in which they receive services.”

During the program, an assigned FFT facilitator will travel to the youths home for 1-2 hours at least once a week. The program lasts up to 12 weeks. 

“The goal is to increase the family’s motivation to change and also to train the parents in the changing techniques that we use at probation levels,” said Unruh. “Things like cognitive thinking, cognitive thinking errors, that’s what the state of Kansas is working very hard to incorporate in every aspect of probation.”

The main job of the facilitators is to get the youth and their family to identify the problems on their own and come up with solutions for it. 

“The trick to that is getting the family or the client to verbalize what the best option is,” said Unruh. “They identify that it’s not somebody telling them what they should do and then they come up with that solution themselves, so there’s sort of a buy-in that way.”

The comfortability of the at-risk youth and their family is a major aspect stressed in the program

“Instead of using what we might consider traditional rules or punishments or consequences, they want to work with what works for the family and not pass judgement,” said Unruh. “If they think a rule or consequence or something is too harsh, they don’t try to correct the parents or correct the kids. They just want to try to make a working family, and of course help negotiate fights, arguments and things like that at home.”

Unruh expressed her excitement at the increased amount of parent involvement with this program, something that wasn’t as available before. 

“Anything that the facilitator says is also going to be with other witnesses in the family,” said Unruh. “There’s not going to be any cross-talk and that’s something they haven’t stressed before in other programs. I’m pretty excited about that because there’s obviously sometimes correlations with things at home or parents not being in the loop on other issues.”

Unruh believes that this program will shed a positive light on juvenile corrections and eliminate the negativity between youths and their facilitator.

“I was really pleased and optimistic about the way they approach this,” said Unruh. “We have so many families that deal with negative law enforcement and negative probation experiences that it’s very easy to feel that people are out to get you or judging. That’s the positive thing I take from this program is that they’re separate from our program, so you have somebody to come in who’s not out to get you.”

The program is now offered through Emberhope based out of Wichita.