You probably haven't heard of Step Up unless you're a teenager with rage issues (or you gave birth to a baby who grew up to become one). Step Up is a counseling program for teenagers who propagate domestic violence. The program is modest in some respects—it's run by two social workers on an annual budget of $200,000—but it's the only program that helps teen domestic violence offenders in the state. "We’re the first, and we think only, program in the country that addresses youth domestic violence, even though this issue is dominating juvenile courts all over," says Lilly Anderson, a counselor with Step Up. The program is a national and international model for dealing with aggressive youth in the home. "Juvenile courts and agencies all over the U.S. and in about eight other countries who have contacted us and want to use our curriculum," Anderson says.
Here's the bad news: Step Up's funding is cut under Dow Constantine's proposed 2011 budget. The program needs a Hail Mary to continue—either the King County Council find money to retain the program or voters pass Proposition 1, which would raise the county sales tax from 9.5 percent to 9.7 percent. However, the county sales tax isn't polling well, so desperate teenagers and parents who've seen the success the program can bring are lobbying the council for a reprieve.
"Step Up is our one remaining domestic-violence program," says Judge Bruce Hilyer, presiding judge at King County Superior Court. "It’s our cherished program. There’s nothing comparable to it. It needs saving."
Teens and parents who've been through the program are trying to save the program. "We're writing letters, calling council members, and going to budget hearings," says Cynthia Shulman, who went through the program with her daughter in 2006. "Three teenagers spoke at the last budget hearing about their experiences. We're trying every tactic we can to save this program. It deserves to be saved—really, it deserves to be expanded."
But they've got at least two obstacles to overcome...
More after the jump.
... few people know about the program and those outside of the realm of the juvenile court system don't know why they should care. Here's why: over half the cases the KC juvenile court processes deal with juvenile domestic violence. Step Up is a diversion program that gives first-and second-time offenders the option of not being charged if they successfully complete a 20-week treatment program (and don't rack up other charges). The program is free for families and it has fantastic results: an independent research firm found that recidivism is twice as high for youths who don't complete Step Up when compared to youths that do. Which means, basically, that Step Up helps prevent violent teens from becoming violent adults.
"Violence is a learned behavior that they're repeating," says Anderson. "We're helping them break that pattern. When we learn a skill, everyone practices, everyone gives feedback and input. We put them in the role of helping others learn. They start integrating the learning by being teachers and helping each other."
Meanwhile, King County Executive Dow Constantine is proposing huge cuts to the King County sheriff's office and the King County prosecutor's office, which would mean fewer officers enforcing public safety and fewer attorneys available to prosecute crimes.
Anderson explains that while this type of youth violence may start in the home, it quickly expands outward without intervention and counseling. "And as far as I know, we're the only program that offers this service," says Anderson. "We're leaders in this field. We really don’t want to have to disappear when we’re considered the national leaders in this."