Maple Ridge youth diversion program taken in

Joins community services group.

Kids who get into trouble with the law may have a better chance of getting back on the straight and narrow now that the Ridge Meadows Youth Diversion program has been absorbed into the comforting arms of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services.

The youth diversion program, named because it diverts kids in trouble away from the court system, joined community services on April 1.

By getting kids who are accused of crimes involved in programs, counselling or making restitution for their actions, youth can avoid the court process.

Community services executive-director Vicki Kipps said the move should create more stability.

“Now that it’s going to be part of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, we can really just focus on expanding those services for youth, expanding the restorative justice piece,” Kipps said.

The association struggled with financial stability and meeting the needs of a growing community.

“We hope that this will be a bit more sustainable and that we’ll continue to serve more youth.”

The Ridge Meadows Youth Diversion has been offered by the Ridge Meadows Youth and Justice Advocacy Association, which formed in 1994.

But funding for the youth diversion program was unpredictable and often relied on one-time grants, which made it doubtful some years if the program would continue.

Kipps said that’s common in many social service areas, where programs operate on a year-to-year funding.

Last year, however, the City of Maple Ridge committed $20,000 a year for three years to the program, while Pitt Meadows pitched in with $6,600 a year for three years.

The justice advocacy association also received $38,000 this year in gaming grants.

Kipps said that funding will continue, as will the partnerships between the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board, Ridge Meadows RCMP and Katzie First Nation, she added.

“We’re really excited about it.”

For now, the offices remain in the Randy Herman Community Safety Building across from Maple Ridge city hall, but over the next few months the program will move to the Community Services, office at 11907 – 228th St.

The next few months will also see the volunteer board of directors that runs the justice advocacy association dissolve.

In its first 21 years, the organization has diverted 2,200 youth in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows from the courts.

The program operates on about a $95,000 annual budget and each year helps about 100 kids from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows who’ve been diverted from the court process for minor incidents.