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New Perspectives - Oct, 1998 Issue #54

Helena, Montana
By: Larry Stednitz

Aspen Youth Alternatives of Montana, a wilderness/residential treatment program for adjudicated youth in Montana is now opening admissions to the private sector because of it’s tremendous success in the public sector. This highly effective program is the first of it’s kind to open for private pay referrals. 

Five years ago, Aspen Youth Alternatives was founded by Aspen Youth Services. The primary mission of “AYA” is to provide effective public/private programs for adjudicated youth, their families, and communities. AYA started in Utah and now is operating wilderness based and residential programs in Montana, Utah, and the state of South Carolina. 

Three years ago, Aspen and the State of Montana entered into a partnership to treat the State’s delinquent youth. The primary purpose of the program is to divert youth from a deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system. The program has been extremely successful at achieving this goal based on outcome studies and was awarded another two-year contract by the State. 

The primary objective of the program is to provide an experience that addresses oppositional and defiant behavior as well as dysfunctional peer interactions. Primary interventions address personal goal development, academic development, increased personal accountability, and resolving criminal behavior. 

The program is five months in length of stay. Youth initially enroll in a one-month Orientation component, which allows for in- depth evaluation and intervention planning. This is followed by the original 60 day Aspen Achievement wilderness programming. Following this well tested experience, the youth finish the program with a two-month residential program, which includes considerable community service and work projects. All program components are research based. The following program components have proven research support and include experiential programming, cognitive therapies to address criminal behaviors, work/job skill training, and specific social skills training. Traditional “talk” therapies have not proven effective with this population. 

The admissions criteria are similar to traditional wilderness programs. An additional legal requirement is that youth referred must be under some form of legal jurisdiction. The placement could be a court’s alternative to incarceration, a consent decree, or a parental option agreed upon by the court or probation officer. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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