Juvenile offenders who received services under a new, comprehensive counseling program were half as likely to commit more crimes than those who received traditional services, a study done for the state has found.

The study, done by a Maryland consultant for the state Department of Children and Families, tracked youths who received multisystemic therapy, which targets a variety of problems relating to family, school and peers.

While traditional services have focused on one problem at a time, such as drug abuse or behavioral problems, multisystemic therapy takes a big picture approach, state officials said. Therapists are available to families 24 hours a day, seven days a week for up to six months.

DCF Commissioner Kristine Ragaglia said the study’s findings prove that increasing community-based programs is the best way to help at-risk youths.

“This provides us an opportunity to get in there and start dealing with issues in a holistic way,” Ragaglia said. “We’re not only working with these kids, we’re working with their parents, siblings and friends.”

DCF began providing multisystemic therapy, or MST, in 1999, making Connecticut the first state in New England to use the program. The state’s program serves up to 300 youths a year. About half the states in the country use MST.

Youths who received MST in Connecticut had a recidivism rate of 18 percent one year later, compared with a rate of 36 percent who juveniles who did not get the counseling, the study found.

The therapy not only is effective, but it saves the state money, Ragaglia said.

Connecticut spends about $1.7 million a year to house troubled youths in secure residential treatment programs. For every dollar spent on MST, taxpayers save $13.45 in juvenile housing expenses and costs that go to victims of juvenile crime, Ragaglia said.

Some of the state’s worst juvenile offenders have been receiving MST. To get into the program, youths must have served time at least once in Long Lane School or the new Connecticut Juvenile Training School, four to six months remaining on parole, a mild to moderate substance abuse problem and a family willing to cooperate with therapy.

–Associated Press