Youth Mentors Lift Teens’ Prospects

by | Mar 31, 2023

A morning routine at the Hamden REGIONS* Residential Treatment Program for male youth in the phase II component is like many homes in Connecticut. The teens wake up, eat breakfast and head out to class at a local community-based educational center, which mirrors a high school on a smaller scale. The youth who range in age from 13 – 18 are accompanied by their mentor, Ariana Llabani, who joined Community Partners in Action in the Summer of 2022.

Ariana stays with the youth throughout their day, including school, recreational breaks, community outings and onsite career training. This includes forklift truck simulation, recording studio practice, culinary arts training and even a simulated barber shop where teens can train under a licensed barber. All this is part of a large vocational expansion that created what is known as phase II of the Hamden Reentry, Goal-Oriented, Individualized, Opportunity to Nurture Success (REGIONS) residential program.

Teens are referred into the program by the Connecticut Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division (CSSD), beginning what is typically a 6-8 month stay, where they receive 24/7 care and services from a team of skilled mentors, therapists, clinicians, and educators. The therapeutic program is strengths-based and grounded in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy ideal for helping justice-involved teens learn to regulate their emotions and improve their relationships with others.

Once youth demonstrate all learned behavioral skills and meet program expectations, they move up from Phase I to Phase II, where they begin to leave the facility and go out into the community. Phase II gives the adolescents more freedom and the ability to leave the facility to learn at a local community-based school, take field trips, perform community service, or work for a local employer.

Ariana and other Hamden staff help youth develop a positive self-image and improve their overall social, physical, and emotional well-being to reduce their chances of landing into the adult justice system.

“We are trained to validate youth and create a safe space for them to feel their emotions,” said Ariana. “The best part of my job is being able to connect with the kids, helping them to adopt a more positive attitude.”

Phase II of the expanded Hamden residential treatment program began operating in the fall of 2022, allowing the facility to increase its capacity from ten youth to sixteen. In this relationship-driven milieu, teens learn to support each other and stay in touch with family. Families are also brought in for ongoing activities such as clinical team meetings and family nights.

“Youth may come in with a tough attitude and initially resist help,” said Ariana. “If I can find a way to validate their feelings, it gives them the space to completely change their outlook and their day for the better.”

*REGIONS stands for Re-entry, Goal-Oriented, Individualized, Opportunity to Nurture Success.