Orange County sees increased reliance on behavioral and mental health disciplinary resources, which provide diversion options for adolescents and children who would otherwise enter the juvenile court system.
Tami Pfeifer, the county’s youth behavioral health liaison, said she has seen children get stuck in the juvenile justice system for long periods, which creates a greater risk of them later being involved in the adult court system.
Pfeifer began coordinating the Orange County Youth Deflection Program (YDP) in 2021.
Instead of sending youth who commit low-level, nonviolent offenses into the juvenile justice system, law enforcement can send them to the YDP, where Pfeifer supports students and connects them to community resources.
In 2021, 64 percent of reviewed allegations against N.C. juveniles were approved by a juvenile court counselor for court. Nineteen percent were diverted, meaning the juvenile was entered into a diversion plan, and 16 percent were closed.
These diversion or deflection programs include therapeutic and educational resources, as well as service referrals to support those individuals.
Pfeifer said it is important that deflection programs help address the roots of children's issues, like mental health and substance use.
“When I talk to kids and families, I always tell them to use the deflection program as an opportunity to address any unmet needs or challenges that they’re currently having, because I feel like kids tend to get in trouble when there are other things that are unaddressed,” she said.
According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, 89 percent of delinquent youth — people under 18 whose action would be considered a crime if committed by an adult — have at least one mental disorder.