Juvenile Justice Advocacy: Working to Help Local Youth – Part 3

One of the programs that Boys Town offers that has the largest impact is out of its South Omaha Office. Staffers work directly with South High School and Marrs Middle School.

“And our primary approach there is to work with a school counselor, a gang interventionist, and families directly, when an adult in a young person’s life is seeing they are starting to have school problems,” Juliano said.

Staff can work with families in their homes. They can also provide care coordination, which means meeting with the families, helping them connect with the school and making sure that they are getting the supports that they need from the school as well as linking them with other kinds of services in the community.

Boys Town has a strong presence in South Omaha including an outpatient behavioral health clinic. If a parent or someone from the school thinks there may be an emerging mental health or substance abuse issue, they can come in and get an assessment and a referral as well, if needed.

They also provide parent training, giving parents the skills to work with their kids, and address their behaviors.

“We are really trying to get to the family sooner. For South High, we operate an alternative school for 9th and 10th graders. Kids who get suspended have an option to attend a school in their office with South High’s curriculum and laptops. It also gives suspended students the opportunity to continue working on their academic credits and the behaviors that led to their suspension,” Juliano said.

Another challenge is the large population of parents who are not native-English speakers. Some are having immigration challenges or a tough time assimilating into our culture. Boys Town tries to provide a broad base for all families.

Boys Town’s work is funded through a variety of sources. Their in-home programs are funded directly by the Probation Administration. If its in-home work is a court referral, we have a contract where Probation will fund those services. If they’re kids in the Child Welfare System, they have a contract with PromiseShip.

“But largely, in South Omaha, the vast majority of the families we serve are not yet involved with the system. So, the program I described in South Omaha is funded about 60% by Boys Town directly and about 40% from grants through community foundations, the United Way and other foundations and funders,” he said.

That model serves kids before they enter the system, so the funding that comes along with kids being involved in the system is not available to most of those families in South Omaha. In North Omaha, Boys Town has a mix of some system-involved families. In those cases, the behavioral health piece is largely private insurance or Medicaid.

“So, we kind of put it all together the best we can to serve as many kids as we can,” Juliano said.

Shawne Coonfare, Director of the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC), says the JAC’s general philosophy is if a youth is eligible to be diverted from formal court processing, then they need to do that.

“It’s really more about supporting youth and young people in what they need than keeping them out of court. What’s most important to us is that we are supporting the young citizens of Douglas County. And, by doing that, many of them don’t need to proceed to court,” said Coonfare.

The JAC provides assessments for juveniles for the County Attorney’s office. Coonfare explained the CA’s office has the legal responsibility of determining further processing and further charging decisions. So they rely on the JAC to use a standardized, validated, risk-assessment instrument and other screening instruments that can help them determine the real risk and needs for that individual youth.  

Coonfare said not all kids are the same, “Two young people might be shoplifting together at Claire’s, and they both come to the JAC. They meet individually with an assessment professional here as do their parents or guardians. We look at the youth holistically, within the framework of our validated risk-assessment instruments and determine what are their risk and needs. One youth may actually have low risk, not have many needs and so may receive a recommended warning letter from the County Attorney. And another youth, in that same incident, may show a really high risk to continue offending behavior and other unhealthy behavior and needs some interventions put in place, like a therapy intervention or decision-making, something like that.”
Cheril Lee

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