The Front End Diversion Initiative (FEDI), a Texas juvenile justice initiative spearheaded by Dr. Erin M. Espinosa from the School of Social Work’s Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, has been named a promising program by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs.
Through FEDI, specialized juvenile probation officers in Texas receive motivational interviewing, family engagement, crisis intervention, and mental health training to help them better identify and work with youth who have mental health needs. Officers collaborate with the youth and their family on identifying the problems that led to the delinquency referral, and the underlying need behind the mental health challenges of the youth. They also work to ensure that the family, school and other systems within the youth’s life collaborate to keep them within their home and provide the best care. (Watch Espinosa explain FEDI in this video)
“Ecological theory tells us that children develop within the systems that they grow up in, and not in an individual silo,” Espinosa explained. “We train probation officers to not just check in with the youth, but check as well with the schools, the public mental health system, the family, the extended family… with absolutely everybody in that kid’s ecosystem.”
A study conducted on FEDI found that youth with mental health needs who received pre-adjudication supervision and support from specialized juvenile probation officers were significantly less likely to be adjudicated for their initiating offense than youth with mental health needs who only receive pre-adjudication from a traditional model of supervision (more information here).
“In this model, we look at probation differently. It’s not about enforcing a court order but, as an officer recently told me, is about being a probation officer to the community and not just to the kid,” Espinosa said.