The Youth Alliance Support Act (YAS) is the name of a campaign project executed by Master of Social work graduate students in the Specialized Policy Practice and Advocacy course at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). The project is a group effort between graduate students Jose Gallegos, Rita Garcia, Kristina Gomez, Emilia Guzman, Mayra Morales Sosa, and Stephanie Enriquez Shamloo.
The YAS Act proposes to provide juvenile offenders community wraparound services to address all aspects of a youth’s life in all efforts to create individualized assessments and interventions for rehabilitation. The YAS Act would enhance youth’s lives by following the Social Work approach and utilizing the Systems Theory, working in conjunction with the juvenile justice system. YAS would be able to link and provide resources that will assist in reducing the likelihood of reoffending, homelessness, having mental health and substance abuse issues, and encourage school participation.In addition to positive outcomes, community-based approaches permit a family-focused approach to treatment that targets risk factors within the home, peer associations, and school settings.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) is the entity in charge of our juvenile justice system. TJJD presently utilizes the “community-based approach,” which consists of intense supervision, referrals to community resources, and electronic monitoring. At times youth offenders have limited access to services that can assist in rehabilitation. When they have court-mandated services, there is little to no follow through with support to ensure that services are therapeutic and beneficial. When youth offenders have limited access to services that can assist in rehabilitation, they face many risks, including substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, and continued criminal activity.
Approximately 1.6 million youths under the age of 18 are arrested each year in the United States. The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice report there is more than 200,000 youth under age 18 that are tried in adult criminal court each year.According to the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change, approximately 600,000 youth in America are placed in juvenile detention centers. On a given day, about 70,000 youth reside in juvenile correctional facilities.Furthermore,65-70% of youth in contact with the juvenile justice system have one or more diagnosable mental health disorders.
YAS Act, in lieu of confinement and increasing recidivism, can meet the youth’s treatment and environmental needs. The YAS Act will provide juvenile offenders hope and a promising future and reduce the chances of continuing the cycle of involvement in the criminal justice system. This Act can shine a positive light and equip our future youth in the juvenile justice system, with the tools and supports that will assist them with independent living in the community, without cycling back into the legal system. It is imperative to focus on young offenders, and efforts are made for restorative justice for youth and their families to have successful reintegration into the community.
Without the support of the community, government officials, and members of the public, new policy and changes to current policy are impossible. How can you start being part of this change? You can start by supporting this campaign and following us at our Youth Alliance Support ActInstagram and Facebook page at www.Facebook.Com/yasact2020.
Jose Gallegos, Rita Garcia, Kristina Gomez, Emilia Guzman, Mayra Morales, and Stephanie Enriquez Shamloo are Master of Social Work graduate students in the Specialized Policy Practice and Advocacy course at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). This course focuses on the knowledge, values, and skills needed to be an effective social welfare policy advocate, focusing on diverse and underserved populations. Professor Eric Alva, MSW, Program Specialist Title IV-E, teaches this course. Mr. Alva was the first American wounded in the Iraq war and the war’s first Purple Heart recipient. He became one of the nation’s most outspoken and public advocates for the repeal of the U.S. Armed Forces’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and was standing next to President Barack Obama when he signed the repeal of the policy into law. When Mr. Alva is not in the office or advocating on a social issue, he is a motivational speaker.