O'Farrell youth center wins national award SOUTHEAST Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

October 15, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center is celebrating its fourth anniversary today in an award-winning way.

Barry A. Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, will present the council's first Excellence in Adolescent Care award to the Marriottsville center, which serves youths committed to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.

"We are the first to receive this award, which will bring our program national recognition," said John Yates, the center's director.

"It also helps our kids understand what they are doing is meaningful," he said.

The students are "tickled" with the award, which "gives positive attention to kids who are doing positive things," he said.

The 38-bed residential center is a "normative model, where kids are expected to function normally," Mr. Yates said.

"We are very proud of the staff and the boys who live here," said Frieda Miller, assistant director of the North American Family Institute, which operates the center. "They have all worked very hard and deserve this recognition."

The center uses a positive peer program in which the students control themselves.

"Adults don't change kids; kids change kids," Mr. Yates said. "Here, they have adults around them to support what they do. We don't tell them what to do, we guide and model them."

The youths, who range in age from 13 to 18, stay an average of nine months.

They rarely run away, Mr. Yates said. Five who tried to flee this year returned on their own.

"They are here at a significant time in their lives," he said.

"They remember us and, in a sense, don't really leave here," he said. "They move through with a sense of security that we will always be with them."

The center continues routine checks on its former students.

"We stay engaged with kids who leave," he said. "If one starts to slip, we re-engage."

Mr. Krisberg toured the O'Farrell center about two years ago, and he returned three more times to report on it as a model to other states.

When he tracked 56 of its first graduates, he found 55 percent did not return to the juvenile system. The national average for recidivism is about 65 percent, Mr. Yates said.

"I am sure by now that our percentage for non-returns is around 85," he said.

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