LAFAYETTE — A new counseling program for juveniles aims to address behavior problems such as truancy and class disruption by bringing therapy sessions into the home.

The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office officially launched its Functional Family Therapy program in January.

Therapy sessions entail both the child and the child’s family, a term that’s defined loosely as “whoever affects that child,” said Marie Collins, treatment manager at the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office takes referrals from the Lafayette Parish School System and from juveniles involved in the court system.

Prior to this program, services for a troubled child might not kick in until the child got into severe trouble or developed an alcohol or drug dependency, said Winn Amos, community correctional site manager at the Sheriff’s Office. This program works for kids with minor or major problems, Amos said.

On average, the family received between 10 to 12 sessions. The sessions are free to the family, Collins said.

Sessions are broken up into three phases:

• Engagement and motivation: learning about the family

• Behavior change: working to change the participant’s behavior.

• Generalizations: making sure that the participant is integrating his or her newly learned skills into the world at large.

During the final phase, counselors also make referrals to outside community agencies, Collins said.

Natalie Duff, a social worker with the School System’s School Based Therapy Assessment and Referral Services, or STARS program, said she’s personally referred about five or six families to the program.

Duff said it began as a pilot program in Broussard Middle School in November.

The kids who were referred to the program came from families involved in some type of a crisis, or those who were at risk of being placed out of school or even out of their homes.

“They began working within the homes and we did see some positive results,” Duff said.

Bringing the family into the mix makes sense, Duff said, because some of the problems kids are facing stem from their home life. The program bridges the gap that sometimes exists between the school and the home, she said.

“It just really makes things flow a lot better when we’re all working as a team,” Duff said.

Collins stressed the program is not about changing how a family functions.

“We’re going in there to strengthen the behaviors that they currently exhibit to help promote the positive ones as opposed to the negative ones,” Collins said. “We’re saying, ‘this is what your family looks like. How do we make this work?’”

Collins said research has shown that the sessions can also benefit the participant’s siblings.

“That’s one of the reasons why we picked it. It also helps the other children in the home,” Collins said.

The Sheriff’s Office is handling about 24 cases, although it is equipped to handle about 30, Amos said. Since it launched, the program has received 72 referrals. Juveniles who do not meet the criteria for the program are offered access to the Sheriff’s Milestones program, which is individual counseling at the Sheriff’s Office Community Corrections Campus, Collins said.