Las Cruces City Council received an update on youth development and diversion services Monday. Youth Services Administrator Robert Nuñez explains that the three levels of programming meet specific community needs, with classroom elements and community service requirements.
“Level 1s are mostly truancy and runaways,” Nuñez said. “And then at two and three, it goes to drums and other class 3 citations that we get through the juvenile probation office here in Las Cruces.”
Over a period of five years, the Juvenile Citation Program has worked with over 1,300 people across the three levels of the program, with a success rate of 92%. Nuñez estimates that in fiscal year 2020, the graduation rate for program participants was approximately 85%.
Nuñez says he has seen an increased need for mental health services among people taking the program, which he attributes in part to the pandemic.
“I think our youngsters are in a very difficult situation right now,” Nuñez said. “We have seen an increase. Usually our runaways and truants are at our lowest level and we provide them with that assessment and we work with our admissions specialists and families and the majority of them over the years have been at that level a. But just recently, sitting with the staff, is that we see our young people getting to level two, level three.
The pandemic has also played a role in the current staffing shortages within the program. Historically, the program had a presence at the Anthony Community Center, but a reduction in staff resulted in an inability to dedicate in-person resources south of Las Cruces.
“Right now we’re about 50% staffed,” Nuñez said. “With our downsizing, we couldn’t go down south. So we asked them to come north to Las Cruces to receive the classes.
Nuñez notes that staff will reintroduce virtual components to make it easier for communities further south to participate in the program.
Although the pandemic has caused a slight decrease in the number of people going through the lineup, Nuñez says he now notices a trend towards informal references.
“They see a lot more informal referrals with families looking for specific services,” Nuñez said. “And also, public schools, counselors and administrators seek them out before they are cited to receive some type of service or to see how they can help.”
More than $308,000 has been awarded to the JCP program for fiscal year 2022 through a state grant agreement. The program’s other monetary resources include the city’s general fund.
Councilor Kasandra Gandara said county funds could be sought to expand resources even further.
“I want to make sure that from the general fund it’s a priority,” Gandara said. “I think it’s serious. And again, I think we’re doing a great job, but I also think there are funding opportunities, a way to have a strong conversation with the county to provide a funding, because then we can serve more children who really need this kind of help.”
Councilor Tessa Abeyta requested the creation of a resource guide prior to the summer session, to communicate programming options for youth.
“Having strong programs and the accessibility for these people to access these programs is helpful for diversion,” Abeyta said. “Thinking about what we can do, I think for the summer, is making sure that we communicate as much as possible about those resources…and so it would be very good for us, I think to develop a guide of resources.”
Councilman Gandara pointed to a few guides available as resources, citing SHARE New Mexico by name as a source for families.