When your 12-year-old breaks the law

Valissa Milanovich

LAYSB Youth and Family Counselor

Community justice and diversion programming is part of the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau’s business.

The diversion contracts most of us are familiar with, such as community service hours and classes, are only for offenders age 13 and older.

But kids under 13 also get into trouble. What happens to them?

Offenders who are too young for those programs get assigned to LAYSB’s 12 and Under Program. This program combines community justice/diversion with counseling.

The 12 and Under Program is typically completed in 3 to 5 sessions. The youth is encouraged to discuss how the offense affected him or her, and also how it affected the family and the community.

The counselor explores with the family their areas of strength and any areas that may need attention, such as communication.

The youth is asked to complete a cost/analysis worksheet showing direct or indirect financial costs incurred by the offense. These include any police time and the parents’ cost for the program.

The youth may also be instructed to complete an apology letter addressed to the victim. The purpose of this letter is for the youth to state remorse, intent to not commit the offense again, and most importantly, what was learned from this experience.

Once the program is complete, the family can continue counseling sessions with LAYSB. A family may have begun work on some growth areas and may wish to continue making progress. LAYSB makes this transition easy by accepting many insurance plans and by offering a sliding scale fee for families who qualify.

The ultimate goal of the 12 and Under Program is to provide an opportunity for young offenders to reflect on their choices in a shame-free environment. Families are given the opportunity to process their relationships and patterns in an open and confidential space. When completed successfully, this diversion/counseling combination program benefits the youth, the family, and the community.

For more information, contact the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau at 651-464-3685 or [email protected]

Valissa Milanovich has a master of arts degree in marriage and family therapy and is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist.