Program launched to help Carson City youth in juvenile probation
September 20, 2017
Juvenile Probation Services and Ron Wood Family Resource Center are teaming up to provide a new program for Carson City families.
The Family Engagement Program kicked off last week to help provide a stable home environment for youths in the juvenile probation system. Studies have shown one of the highest factors associated with youth recidivism is family environment.
"You have a child with a juvenile brain, so to change the behavior, it isn't enough to just change that behavior, you have to change their setting (they are returning to)," said Deputy District Attorney Buffy Okuma.
The program helps provide resources, education and support for families so they know what needs to be done in the household to provide the best chance at success for the juvenile.
“Juvenile probation did good addressing individual factors, peer factors and school factors (that inhibit juvenile success), but one thing they are missing that they haven’t addressed is the family issues.”
— Buffy OkumaDeputy District Attorney
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"Juvenile probation did good addressing individual factors, peer factors and school factors (that inhibit juvenile success), but one thing they are missing that they haven't addressed is the family issues," Okuma said. "We put so many resources to help with behavior of the juvenile, then put them back into the family system without changing the family system to support the juvenile's change.
"Say a juvenile committed a battery, we spend resources for counseling and tools to change how they react to a situation, but if the family hasn't changed their dynamic, we see the tainting of those new skills the juvenile has acquired because that family powers over that outside influence."
Juveniles in the probation system are given a family risk assessment when they first see their probation officers, where officers will decide whether a family needs to be involved in the program. From there, the family is given a social worker from Ron Wood who will meet with the families to assess what issues need to be looked at to achieve success.
"We are focused on youth and families to serve, it's what we do," said Ron Wood executive director Joyce Buckingham. "Our goal is to work in partnership with Juvenile Services by helping youth find their success for a healthy quality of life."
Each social worker will develop an action plan with the families to address which issues need to be resolved, from finances to proper discipline. Then, they will see the families at least once a week at first and then more or less depending on the development and necessity. The goal is to get the family and juvenile all on the same page to create a better functioning family dynamic for everyone.
"We identify what the family needs to do for the youth so we help the family with resources, support and education to help maneuver them through the plan to be as successful as possible," Buckingham said. "This way, they can be the ones to create the change they need in their lives. It is a lot like life coaching where we bring the services, conveniences and resources to them and they are going to do them on their own."
A unique feature of this program is the social worker will make home visits with officers to help the families integrate what they've learned in their home setting, creating a better likelihood for success.
"We want them to be able to integrate (the new skills) in the home," Okuma said.
"Practice is more beneficial in that setting and we hope it will empower the parents to have those skills to be able to deal with the issues they and their juvenile are having," added Chief of Juvenile Services Ali Banister.
One of the benefits of the program is it isn't just for juveniles on formal probation, the program is available to all of the juveniles they see, even if they only committed minor offenses.
"If we see that need, they can benefit from the program," said Banister. "If a juvenile has a minor offense and the family needs wrap around services, we can fill out a referral to get them involved so we can get them help early on and they don't have to go through the court system. We want to stop them before they get to court so we are preventing delinquency and recidivism."
Currently, there's one family enrolled in the program with two more referrals processing.
"In reality, every kid could benefit, but we don't have the manpower to do that," said Deputy Chief of Juvenile Probation Services Linda Lowery.
All involved said this program addresses problems that have been ongoing for a long time.
"This is the filler for a gap we have had for so long," Okuma said.