The Center for Dispute Resolution’s Victim Impact Panel program for youth has been helping youth recognize and internalize the impact that crime has on people and communities for over 10 years. The VIP program is offered for youthful offenders referred by the Greene County Juvenile Office, and it uses storytelling, dialogue, and reflection to help young people understand and explore the impact that crime has on individuals, their family and friends, and their community.
Traditionally this program was offered every 6 weeks in a face-to-face format. During sessions facilitators (who were CDR interns or campus/community volunteers) met with a small group of youth. Over the course of 2 evenings the kids learned about the impact of crime and talked with community volunteers who’d been the victims of the types of crimes kids commit. However, in the spring of 2020, COVID-19 put a stop to in-person meetings.
About the Virtual VIP Program
In response to the need for a socially-distanced program, the CDR modified the VIP model. Instead of youth gathering in a group, they now meet individually with volunteer facilitators via phone or video conference.
In these meetings the youth and facilitators explore the various types of harm that happen when crimes occur, watch a documentary about a real-life crime, and identify examples of the types of harm they just discussed. Following this they talk about the offense committed by the youth, who was impacted by it, and what alternate actions the youth could take in the future. Following the session youth reflect on these discussions and write an essay about what they have learned, which is submitted to the Juvenile Office.
This program provides an opportunity for youth to explore the impact of crime generally, and their own offenses in particular, in order to help them recognize how their actions impact others and plan alternate behaviors in the future. It also offers an invaluable experiential learning opportunity for students in the Conflict Certificate programs. Over the past year 7 student interns have worked with the program.
One Year Later – The Impact of “Virtual” VIP Sessions
The CDR continues to conduct research on the impact of the “virtual” VIP sessions and how this modified program compares to the traditional face-to-face VIP program. Early results of this research indicate that the modified program has been successful in a number of ways.:
- Although the percentage of youth referred who take part in the program has dropped slightly due to the challenges faced by families in the time of COVID-19, families report that the ease and flexibility of scheduling sessions is something they appreciate.
- There has been a significant increase in the percentage of participating youth who successfully complete the program and submit the final reflection essay. Completion rates with the virtual program have risen from 68% to nearly 83%. This increase was particularly notable for youth of color, whose rate of program completion rose nearly 30%.
- The individualized nature of virtual VIP sessions has allowed facilitators to modify the program and their approach to better meet the needs of youth with disabilities, including kids with learning disabilities and emotional or behavioral challenges.
Virtual VIP facilitator Kaitlyn Killingsworth (a student in the Early Childhood Education & Family Studies master’s program and the Conflict Certificate program) described her experience with the program. “The virtual program allows me to create a relationship with youth where they feel comfortable, respected, and safe to deeply reflect on the harm their offenses have caused and the ways they can begin to repair this harm. The one-on-one shared space allows youth to be more open, honest, and vulnerable, and I have watched as youth begin to process the ways their actions have impacted the direct victim of the crime, their close family members, the community, and even themselves. And we explore how that harm can be repaired. You wouldn’t believe how creative these kids can be! One youth even suggested mowing every lawn in their neighborhood to repair the harm caused in their community, in hopes of mending the relationships that may have faltered due to the crime they committed.”
Research into this program is ongoing, and the CDR will continue to offer the modified “virtual” VIP program for the foreseeable future.
Get Involved with the VIP Program for Youth
The work of the CDR would not be possible without the generous support of many community/campus volunteers and student interns. Are you interested in supporting the VIP Program? Contact CDR Director Dr. Charlene Berquist for more information or consider donating to the CDR to help offset program costs.