The Seacoast Diversion Program

by Susan Morse

Hampton Union, October 15, 2002

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON – It’s the kind of thing parents have nightmares about: learning their teen-age son or daughter is using drugs or abusing alcohol to such an extent that the child faces going through juvenile court.

Just over a year ago, the court would probably have sent the kids to the Community Diversion Program formerly located in Portsmouth and now in Greenland. The program serves the 37 towns in Rockingham County.

Now parents and school administrators in the SAU 21 district have another option: to send the children to a diversion program in Hampton.

That the program is local can make all the difference, says Vic Maloney, director of the year-old Seacoast Diversion Program. The eight-week program is held out of an office at 861 Lafayette Road.

For one thing, kids without transportation find it easier to get a ride locally, and those who can’t hitch a ride from family or friends can often get a lift from program staff.

If community service is part of the court order, Maloney calls his contacts in the area to find jobs for them, such as working on school athletic fields.

This month, the Seacoast Diversion Program marks its first year. County Commissioner Kate Pratt recently presented program co-founders Maloney and Dawn Emerick with a check for $10,000, part of the $600,000, 6 percent incentive fund grant given to the county by the state.

It is hoped that this early intervention will keep kids out of court and serious trouble.

“The state of New Hampshire funding for the diversion program is to divert kids from the court system,” Pratt says. The 6 percent represents Rockingham County’s share of 6 percent of the state’s cost to place a teen in juvenile detention.

The Seacoast Diversion Program has received $39,000 this year from the county. It is also funded through other grants, the Fuller Foundation and Wheelabrator Technologies.

Maloney hopes to add a second counselor to the staff next year.

Peg Duffin, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, is the only therapist. She has brought about 50 students through the eight-week program. Groups of students meet for 1½ hours each week.

She may look like a mom or grandmother, Maloney says, but Duffin has teeth. Kids soon learn she has all of the spark of a Mrs. Doubtfire.

Duffin is honest with the teens and has plenty of experience in group dynamics.

She starts by giving the students a profile of themselves, listing the drugs they’ve been using.

“Most people don’t think they have a problem,” she says.

Through talk, demonstrations and video, they soon find out differently.

Duffin, who has raised eight children, says the problems she sees now are no different than when she saw raising her own kids. What is different, she says, is “the range of the drugs they’re using.”

Ecstasy, Ketamine – a tranquilizer used by veterinarians – and heroin are readily available to students in junior high and high school.

“Marijuana for kids today, is a staple,” Duffin says.

And drugs are cheap.

Hampton Academy Junior High School nurse Dee Gough, who is a program board member, says heroin is available for under $5.

“They begin by snorting it,” Duffin says. “They know exactly where to get it.”

Neither Duffin nor Gough could give statistics on how many students are using drugs and abusing alcohol, but they say the problem goes across all demographic and gender lines. More boys than girls are in the program, but that’s only because guys tend to flaunt their behavior and get caught more easily, they say.

“It’s not discriminatory to the poor, troubled or needy,” Gough says.

What the program mostly offers is a chance for the students to talk to someone who will listen.

The students say, “‘Wow, we came here, you look me in the eye and listen,'” Maloney says.

The students learn ways to say no to drugs that won’t get them into trouble with their peers. Some are surprised, Maloney says, when he tells them it’s OK to tell their friends they can’t take drugs just now because they might be drug-tested during the next eight weeks.

It’s a sentence that can “get them off the hook,” says Emerick.

Keeping kids off drugs after they get out of the program is tough, Gough admits. Often it requires them to stop seeing friends who still use drugs.

Students may be referred to the Seacoast Diversion Program through CHINS, a Child in Need of Services petition, brought forward by a the school’s resource officer, an administrator or parent. The program costs $40 for eight weeks, but no child is turned away for lack of funds.

The parents are brought in during the program.

The diversion program is open to all students in the SAU 21 districts of Hampton, Hampton Falls, North Hampton, South Hampton and Seabrook, including those not referred by court order. The office is open on a walk-in basis from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call 926-5253 for information.