Responding to a Pennsylvania Attorney General’s 1975 ruling banning youth from incarceration with adults at Camp Hill Correctional Facility, Thomas Jeffers launched the Youth Advocate Program Inc. (YAP) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In the early days, YAP’s mission was to offer community-based alternatives to institutionalization, incarceration and other out-of-home placements. They did not operate any out-of-home care programs such as shelters, foster homes and residential facilities.
Over the years, attempting to stay current with the trends in the juvenile and criminal justice system, YAP expanded its model to offer services to a broader population by developing 125 programs in 18 locations across the nation, including Washington D. C. Today YAP has become a national and international leader committed to keeping young people and families together. Their goal is to address the needs of youth who are, have been, or may be subject to compulsory care, providing them with opportunities to develop the skills necessary to enhance their unique strengths and interests, improve their life circumstances and make positive contributions to the betterment of their community. This community-based-approach provides neighborhoods with safe, proven, effective and economical alternatives to institutional placement, and allows young people to be valued and seen as assets by the members of their community.
What is unique and sets YAP apart from other community-based organizations is their multi-faceted service model comprised of the following five central pillars: Community Advocacy recruits and trains advocates from neighborhoods where the youth and families live, matching the youth with an advocate; Needs-led and Strength-Based Appro. . ices, out-patient clinics and behavioral health needs. The Juvenile Justice component offers gang prevention and intervention, alternatives to detention, community reintegration and gender specific programming. YAP’s School-Based Services offer truancy prevention, in-school suspension, and alternative school programming and after-school programs.
Their Developmental Disabilities Services for Children offers mental health diagnoses and services for individuals within the autism spectrum. Their Autism Support Services provide direct services for training, educational and consultation services and the Autism Communication Assessment Initiative. Their newly developed Adult Offender Program offers developmental services including re-entry support, transitional housing, TANF support, parenting and fatherhood programs, supported work programs and adult autism services.