08/08/04 — New juvenile court counselor

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New juvenile court counselor

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 8, 2004 2:13 AM

Joe Testino has an ambitious goal -- he wants to make the lives of troubled youth and their families better.

Testino, the new chief juvenile court counselor for Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties, has spent 24 years working with children, including the last 15 as a juvenile court counselor.

One way that he hopes to help at-risk children is by collaborating with other agencies, including the Social Services and Mental Health departments.

"We need to help each other," Testino said. "ƒIt takes all of us working together to make a difference in some of these young lives. That's one of my goals. I haven't had a chance to do that here, but I want to develop and maintain those relationships."

Testino took over on July 1, succeeding Larry Hayes, who retired, as the chief juvenile court counselor for the 8th Judicial District.

"When this job came open, it's been a great fit for me," Testino said. "Working with youth has always been my desire."

Testino was promoted to his new job after serving as a juvenile court supervisor in the 7th Judicial District for Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Now that he is an administrator, however, his one-on-one relationship with youth has been limited. But he says he will still assist his court counselors.

"Most of us who do this still like to keep our hands in it," Testino said. "I'll try to stay involved with the cases, even if it's just sitting down and talking with them or helping them get the resources. The counselors get so close to them at times, so it's good to get another opinion. That's why I get involved."

Testino explained that his office and the Department of Juvenile Justice have three purposes:

*To screen juvenile defendants, determine the appropriateness of the charges and assist law enforcement.

*To supervise the defendants, if they are placed on probation by the courts.

*To supervise the defendants in youth development centers, once called training schools, if they receive active sentences or their probations are revoked.

An after-care program for the young people also is available.

Testino's new district has a supervisor, 15 counselors and two administrative assistants. Two counselor positions are vacant after one had resigned and another was deployed with the military to Iraq. District offices are maintained in Goldsboro and Kinston, and several counselors are assigned to Greene County.

"Juveniles and their families now have so many needs," Testino said. "There are so many opportunities to put resources in place that the counselors cannot always meet those needs. But they work hard at it. My counselors have stepped up to the plate ƒ by putting things in place for the families we work with. Those in the field are working with other agencies. They're making a difference."

Testino also is getting his first contact with Family Court. This judicial district is one of only about 10 in the state with one. Family Court was started about three years ago to get domestic matters settled more quickly and more efficiently. The one-judge, one-family concept was created to get more stability and consistency in the system.

"I'm excited about the concept," Testino said. "It seems to be something that we can get involved in. Part of it we can use to our benefit."

A native of High Point, Testino attended Mars Hill College and then graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in leisure studies.

At one point he worked with the handicapped at O'Berry Center and then with "Willie M." children in group homes. When that county stopped funding the Willie M. program, he was hired in 1989 as a court counselor in the 2nd Judicial District that covers Beaufort, Martin, Washington, Hyde and Tyrrell counties.

He and his wife have a daughter, Lauren, 14, and a son, Anthony, 11. They live in Wilson.