Toni McIntosh believes there are no bad kids, just kids with issues.
McIntosh, coordinator for the Napa Police Youth Diversion program, makes it her job to see these youngsters get the help they need to succeed in life and become productive, well-adjusted adults.
“We work with kids who are at risk of getting into trouble and headed in the wrong direction,” McIntosh said.
The youth diversion program, which started in 1999, has helped hundreds of Napa’s youth get on the straight and narrow path.
“From July 2011 to this July, we have helped about 750 kids in various capacities,” McIntosh said. “I would estimate our success rate is about 90 percent when it comes to keeping at-risk kids out of the juvenile justice system and ending up with a criminal record.”
Intervention is the driving force behind the program. Parent involvement is essential in order to make the program work, McIntosh said. “We work with the kids and their families. That is a huge part of the success of youth diversion. The whole family needs to be involved.”
The youth diversion program is a one-stop shop. Each child in the program is treated as an individual.
“We design a contract that works for them,” McIntosh said.
The program is open to anyone under 18 at no cost. Kids in the program have either committed a crime or are referred by someone who is familiar with youth diversion, word of mouth and other avenues.
“Our goal is to prevent juvenile delinquency in a positive way ... to give kids a dream and vision of something to strive for,” McIntosh said.
Youth diversion is a voluntary program. If a minor commits a crime, the court can offer a diversion program instead of time in juvenile hall.
Each participant signs a contract designed to help them achieve their personal goals. The parenting/child classes are for six weeks.
“This a serious matter. Together, the kids, their parents and I make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives,” McIntosh said.
At the end of the contact, those who are successful receive a diploma. In order to succeed, attendance is of the utmost.
“That is why we are so vigilant on truancy,” she said.
In addition to the parenting classes, kids and their parents attend anti-drug, anger management, mental health treatment and other intervention programs.
The youth diversion program also has tutoring and therapy. One Napa family is forever grateful the youth diversion program became part of their lives. The last name of the family and their daughter’s name are not published because of confidentially of the minor child.
“We first met Toni in February 2011 when my 17-year-old daughter refused to come home. She wanted to live with someone else,” said Camille, the girl’s mother. “My husband and I found that unacceptable...fortunately drugs and alcohol were not involved.”
But, “her behavior was unstable. We set boundaries, and my daughter refused to abide by them. We had to do something drastic,” Camille said.
That was when the worried parents discovered the police department youth diversion program.
“Toni (McIntosh) called a family meeting. We didn’t know what to expect. She talked to us, telling us our daughter needed a higher authority, not just her parents to answer to,” Camille said.
“It was amazing. Toni worked so closely with us, and my daughter was diagnosed with a mood disorder. Toni helped us get our child into therapy and on medication,” Camille said. “That never would have happened without the intervention of Toni and the youth diversion program.”
Camille and her family are grateful that with the help of the program, her daughter’s behavior never lead to having the juvenile justice intervene.
“We are good parents and thought we were doing all the right things,” she said. “But there came a time when we had to admit we needed to seek outside help. We had to let go if we wanted to save her life.”
The youth diversion program is not all hard work and no play.
“We do a lot of fun things as well. We teach the kids how to fish, have barbecues, karate, scholarships for the Jets football team,” Toni said. “The kids are also very involved with community service. We help with many fundraisers.”
The kids also have the opportunity of trips to colleges, California Culinary Academy and more.
There is also vocational programs, such as auto repair. Napa Police Sgt. Mike Hensley oversees the youth diversion program.
“It’s a great program. The main purpose is to keep our youths from becoming juvenile offenders. The program corrects bad behavior and shows the kids a different pathway that steers them away from jail,” Hensley said. “The whole family needs to get active in the program and support one another. That makes the child and the program a success.”
McIntosh believes 100 percent in program.
“This isn’t an eight-to-five job. I meet with people whenever they have the time to meet with me and most anywhere they want. I have met with families at 10 p.m. and even at 1 a.m. If that what it takes, that’s what we’ll do.”