An intervention program aimed at decreasing the chances that juveniles convicted of crimes will reoffend has finally made its way to Southwest Virginia.

Functional Family Therapy services became available to 14 underserved Southwest Virginia locations, including Tazewell County, last month.

Jeff Brintle, court services director for Virginia’s 29th judicial district, said the family-based treatment and diversion services are meant to intervene with youths before they get in too deep with the court system. The program works by addressing juveniles who have substance use, behavioral or emotional issues, he said.

Unlike most therapy or rehabilitative services, FFT requires the participation of the child’s entire family.

“The program really emphasizes the family component,” Brintle said.

He explained that family participation not only makes the therapy more effective for the offender, but for the offender’s siblings, as well.

“Often times, we’re finding through research that if there’s a sibling that’s younger and they’re involved in FFT with the offender and family, their risk of entering the court system has been reduced significantly, too,” Brintle said.

Provided by the National Counseling Group, the short-term but intensive therapy has been available in other parts of the commonwealth for several years. Brintle and court services directors in other parts of the region have been pushing for services like FFT to come to the area for quite some time.

“We’ve had the challenges of not having services for dealing with kids and their families for a really long time,” Brintle said.

Funding was tight, he said, until the closure of a Virginia juvenile detention center freed up about half a million in state dollars to launch the program earlier this year.

“So, we’ve finally gotten something that’s focused on the kids and the youth and their needs,” Brintle said.

To enter the program, juvenile offenders between the ages of 11 and 18 are assessed and referred by their probation officers. At-risk kids who are not already involved in the court system can be referred to the program through the department of social services.

“With the launch of this FFT team, we are one step closer to eliminating ‘justice by geography’ and ensuring all youth have access to quality services regardless of their zip code,” said Department of Juvenile Justice Director Valerie Boykin.

With two new offices in the region — one in Abingdon and one in Wytheville — therapy providers will travel to their clients’ homes to help eliminate the transportation obstacle many people in rural Southwest Virginia face.

“So transportation is not an issue like it has been forever,” Brintle pointed out.” This helps get the therapy in the living rooms of the families.”

So far, the 29th judicial district already has a handful of youths in enrolled in the program.

Brintle said he looks forward to seeing the program progress in the area within the next year.

“We’re hoping for a great outcome in the end.”

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