CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Families are the focus of a new program in Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley aimed at preventing incarceration of children and teens in trouble with the law.

The court service unit in Charlottesville handled 2029 juvenile complaints last year. The unit in Staunton handled about 1510. 

Probation officers, like Mike Neilson, are now referring some of the most high-risk juveniles to a new program called "multisystemic therapy,” or MST.”

“A lot of times the family systems need a lot of work and all these things have differences that make kids to act in certain ways and drive certain behaviors,” said Mike Neilson, probation officer.

The Waynesboro-based MST team of therapists will work with children and their families within a 90 minute drive.

The intensive, six month program focuses on the issues at home that put these children at risk of committing another crime or ending up behind bars.

“They shouldn't have to go through a correctional center in order to get the education they need, to get the skills they need, to get any of the treatments they need if we can provide it for them in the community,” said Saundra Crawford, 25th District Court Service unit director.

The MST therapy team will be available to those families 24 hours a day.

The Department of Juvenile Justice plans to expand the MST program and add an alternative family intervention therapy to more than 100 communities across Virginia by the end of the year.