07/25/06 — Programs for troubled youths earn state funding

View Archive

Programs for troubled youths earn state funding

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 25, 2006 1:51 PM

A Wayne County organization will receive more than $500,000 from state and local allocations during the next year to continue its work with programs that help local children and teenagers get a new start.

The North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will provide most of the funding to the Wayne County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. The Wayne County Board of Commissioners in turn has approved the required local matching funds.

One of the duties of the council, which oversees the Structured Day, Connect Four, Life Changes, Psychological Services and Teen Court programs, is to make sure those organizations are providing the services local children need.

To accomplish this, the council must annually review the needs of at-risk juveniles throughout the county, whether they have been adjudicated, undisciplined or delinquent, Council Chairperson Sudie Davis said.

One of the council's major hurdles is to prevent juvenile delinquents from becoming repeat offenders. Most of the county's juvenile delinquent statistics are above the state average.

For example, 24 percent of the 173 children assessed by the county last year had prior felony or misdemeanor charges on their records, which is almost twice as much as the 11 percent state average. Also, 38 percent of those children function below their grade level compared to the state average of 20 percent.

To create a better future for the youths and the community, Mrs. Davis said the council must target juveniles who assault others, use drugs or alcohol, have school behavior problems or have guardians with marginal parental supervision skills.

The Structured Day program, which is a branch of A lot of Direction, Love and Affection, targets children between the ages of 7 and 17 who are delinquent or at risk due to inappropriate behavior in the home, school or community, ADLA Director Danny King said.

The program provides an environment where children can continue to learn and grow academically even after being suspended or expelled from school for anything other than a gun charge.

"Students can go to do this and stay on task and get the classwork they need," Mrs. Davis said.

The program puts suspended children back in a classroom setting and engages them in employment readiness training, counseling and curriculum programs dealing with life skills.

The goal of the program over the next year is for nearly a third of the children in the program to show a reduction in any future disciplinary referrals, attend class more, enter into subsidized employment and discontinue disruptive behavior. Also, the council's goal is for 80 percent of the participants referred by the public school system to be allowed to re-enroll in school and continue their education.

To reach these goals, the program has been allocated more than $293,000.

The traditional family structure has changed over the past few decades to more single-parent families. With one parent working to support the entire family, some youths have behaved in inappropriate or unlawful ways when they do not have adult supervision.

The Connect Four program aims to take some of those children between the ages of 10 and 17 and decrease their delinquent behavior by working with the entire family, director Kimberly Armstrong said. This includes implementing a better communication system to strengthen the roles of the children and their parents. Some of the program's daily activities include anger management, reflective listening sessions and financial management and planning.

"We try to tailor the program to meet the needs of the family. If there is a child that has been referred because of anger management problems, it wouldn't benefit them to sit through discussions on gang prevention or something else," Mrs. Armstrong said.

Parents play an active part in the program because without them, there is no connection, Mrs. Armstrong said. Parents are required to join in the 12-week program and assist by having mandatory family dinners with their children four nights of the week and discussing those dinners during the sessions.

Connect Four has been allocated more than $120,000. The program's goal is to have half of the participants show an improvement in behavior, improve the family's communication and provide substance abuse education and life skills training to those who need it.

According to the Governor's Crime Commission findings, Wayne County ranks in the top 20 percent in the state with the most at-risk youths. For example, 53 percent of the youths assessed by the county admitted that they regularly associate with others involved in delinquent activities.

To help stem this rise in illegal activity, the county provides Life Changes for adjudicated juvenile offenders and others between the ages of 7 and 18 who have been referred by their parents, school or law enforcement agency.

The program, which has been allocated about $57,000, provides a way for juvenile offenders to be held accountable for their actions through uncompensated community service to earn restitution for their victims, Mrs. Davis said.

Through their community service, the youths are expected to learn the importance of work and taking responsibility for their actions. The program's goal in the next year is to make sure that 90 percent of the offenders complete their community service within two months and 75 percent will not commit another delinquent act in the year following their punishment.

Teen Court is a way for delinquent teens and their families to diffuse volatile situations in their life and get back on the right track, while learning how the court system works and experience the punishment that comes with breaking the law.

The program has been allocated $25,000, not including local matches.

In Teen Court, a person's peers act as the attorneys and jury that determine the proper sentencing for the offender. The expected result is that more than 80 percent will increase their sense of responsibility, Mrs. Davis said.

Some of the offenders need additional counseling, which is provided by Psychological Services. That program has been allocated $22,500, not including the local matches.

Both programs together will receive about $80,000.

The council will also receive an additional $3,441 that will be allocated sometime throughout the year. Mrs. Davis said the best advantage to the state allocations is that the state allows the local governments to decide how to spend the money based on the needs in the community.

"I think it's great because we know the community and its needs," Mrs. Davis said.