The recently published handbook for parents and guardians,"How to Help Your Child After Arrest," was a two-year effort that began in 2019. The guidebook helps parents navigate the legal system and addresses questions starting from the time of the child's arrest. Topics covered include whether the child should talk to a probation officer about the crime, what charges mean, immigration status concerns, getting an attorney, where to go for answers when confused, court hearings, probation, visitation at juvenile hall, how to keep the child out of the justice system, finishing high school and other related matters.
In addition to the guidebook, the commissioners cataloged existing substance abuse, mental health, and transition services available to youth who have had contact with the juvenile justice system. After interviewing 10 providers to find gaps in services, the commission concluded that due to a declining number of young people in the system and good coverage of county services, programs are available to all youth who come into contact with the system. Outside of the facilities, however, such services are optional and aren't fully utilized, they said.
"The biggest gap appears to be getting needed mental health and substance abuse services and support to boys transitioning from juvenile hall. Our work in 2021 will be directed at identifying solutions to address this gap," they wrote.
The commissioners also conducted state-mandated inspections of the county's facilities, the Youth Services Center and Camp Kemp for girls and Canyon Oaks. They gave all three facilities overall positive reviews for their effort to provide trauma-related services designed to provide the children with support, guidance and structure.
They also identified gaps. "There continues to be a need to address the vocational and educational needs of youth who have graduated from high school or otherwise achieved equivalency," the commissioners wrote.
The pandemic has also affected the juvenile justice system in significant ways. The Youth Services Center, which houses up to 180 youth, had just 10 young people in January 2021. The Camp Kemp for girls had just four youth out of a capacity of about 30, according to a January commission report. The plummeting numbers are due to safety measures the probation department and other agencies took to protect young people from COVID-19. County agencies were not detaining youth unless they committed a serious offense. The reduced numbers of children in the facilities has led to staffing constraints.
Due to safety protocols, there were almost no COVID-19 infections among youth and staff, the commissioners noted in their annual report. At the Youth Services Center, a few young people who entered the facility arrived infected with COVID-19, but they were tested and quarantined on entry and the virus did not spread. The staff at the Youth Services Center also did a good job of reducing the potential impacts of isolation and stress during the pandemic while having to keep the young people in their rooms for more hours, the commissioners noted in a separate December inspection report.
Their annual report noted, however, a concern that the girls from Camp Kemp were now sleeping at the Youth Services Center due to the plummeting numbers. In April 2020, Camp Kemp, which focuses on helping girls process trauma and offers an educational program the commission highly lauded, began transferring the girls to the Youth Services Center in the evenings. The commission was not informed of this development.
Staff said the nightly transfer was done in a way to minimize retraumatizing the girls and they were kept away from girls in the locked-down Youth Services Center. The transfer is "a major change," and the commission should be informed "of changes impacting the housing of the youth or other significant changes," the December inspection report noted.
"This is not an ideal situation and should be rectified as soon as possible," the commissioners said in their annual report.
The commission also worked in 2020 to recommend a better strategy for truancy in county public schools, an effort that is ongoing.
"We believe that keeping students in school is key to preventing delinquency. Our goal is to develop recommendations on how to effectively address truancy, increase student attendance, and thereby increase the percentage of students graduating from high school," they wrote.
A task force consisting of representatives from the county Office of Education, school district boards of trustees, mental health and legal advocacy professionals, and others involved in education has been meeting to assess best ways for reducing truancy and will continue the work in 2021.
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