A new North Dakota program to “engage, empower and encourage” children accused of minor misbehavior and steer them away from the criminal justice and foster care systems launched Aug. 1.
The state’s Department of Human Services will provide policy and procedures oversight to the new team, whose members are located throughout the state. Team members will talk to children, parents and others involved with the family to assess each family’s needs and what resources are available to them, officials said. The team engages with children who have had more than three unexcused absences from school, who use tobacco or tobacco-related substances, or who often disobey or run away from their parents or guardians.
“Lawmakers recognized that children who are acting out and need services, but who have not committed a delinquent act, can and should be served in the community,” said Cory Pedersen, director of the Department of Human Services’ Children and Family Services Division.
The program was approved in 2021 by the Legislature and came from the state’s efforts at juvenile justice reform. Pedersen emphasized, however, that the team is not an emergency service so the Behavioral Health Crisis Line — reached by dialing 988 or 211 — should be a parent or guardian’s first resource if a child is in crisis.
The department’s statement said that beginning this month, parents, law enforcement, school officials and other adults could begin making referrals online.
“It is exciting to be able to lead this new team, which is energized and ready to take on the challenges of developing and implementing new practices and building relationships with community partners,” said RSR Human Service Zone Director Lynn Flieth. “We are honored to work with youth and their families and to have this opportunity to help change the trajectory of the lives of children and youth.”
The team is also supervised by RSR Human Service Zone, a provider that serves the southeast corner of the state.