York County's Youth Aid Panel seeks volunteers

John Joyce
  • Youth Aid Panel helps first-time juvenile offenders avoid criminal records.
  • Volunteers are unpaid but work with families to correct children's poor decision making.
  • Program coordinator Michelle Breen said the program has an 88 percent success rate as of 2015.

The York County Probation Services Juvenile Office is looking for volunteers for its Youth Aid Panel, a diversionary program started in 2007 that helps nonviolent juvenile offenders avoid a criminal record.

In the last three years, 7,292 juveniles have completed the program, performing more than 4,600 hours of community service, according to a news release.

Youth Aid Panel coordinator Michelle Breen said the program boasts an 88 percent success rate as of 2015. The program is currently composed of 65 volunteers spread over 20 three- to five-person panels. Some panels have only two members assigned, which Breen said is not fair to the children who come before them.

Skinhead killers were granted the resentencing hearings following a U.S. Supreme Court decision banning automatic life-without-parole terms for juvenile killers.

"We need as many as we can get," she said.

Panelists must have no criminal history, are required to complete an FBI background check and must complete a state child abuse history clearance. Each volunteer must complete a three-hour online training course regarding the state's newly amended mandated reporter training. Breen said a recent change to state law makes it so  anyone working with children is legally required to report suspected abuse.

Family Support Alliance offers free reporting training

All of the children who come before the panel are nonviolent first-time offenders referred to the program by the police departments investigating the juvenile. The parents, the juvenile and the panel then go through an interview process discussing the child's environment and history, the charges and an appropriate course of corrective action, Breen said.

The juvenile can be assigned community service, might be asked to write letters of apology and can, in some cases, be forced to make restitution to the victims or to the state.

If the offender breaks the contract or receives additional charges while in the program, that would result in unsuccessful discharge, Breen said. That would most likely result in criminal charges being reinstated, she added.

"One of the benefits to the juvenile is that when they complete the program, after a six-month wait, their record is expunged," she said.

In 2015, 396 juveniles were referred to the program. Of those, 286 were put under contract. The others, Breen said, were screened out for a number of reasons, including having a prior criminal record.

Panels meet regularly, usually once a month, and are established geographically.

"If, for example, the juvenile went to Red Lion or Dallastown high school, that panel would meet at the York Area Police Department," Breen said.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the program is asked to contact Breen at 717-771-9567 ext. 348, or co-coordinator Lori Petraco, at 717-771-9567 ext. 306.

— Reach John Joyce atjjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @JohnJoyceYD