Getting to the root of the problem is the model that Bradley County Juvenile Court and the Community Crime Reduction committee use in hopes of bringing positive change to the community.
The committee is made up of partners who bring different elements to address juvenile crime and help families in the community.
Bradley County Juvenile Court director Terry Gallaher presented information on the impact of the mapping system that had been developed as a part of the initial grant that brought the partners together. The system helps the court chart where juveniles and adults have been arrested. It is many of the same addresses.
“Our statistics have shown that probation numbers have been cut over the four years since we started this grant. The kids going into state custody, which is a big indicator of how successful we are locally with our partnerships and prevention and intervention … those numbers started dropping,” Gallaher said.
Juvenile court has been working on ways to condense and streamline the docket, so minor issues are not coming to the judge but are being handled by the schools.
Gallaher said he wants to be able to help children address their behavior before they commit a serious crime. He said the partnerships and programs of the local juvenile court are designed to keep children from committing a crime that would put them in the state juvenile jail.
“What we are trying to do is I want every child’s problem dealt with at the lowest level,” Juvenile Judge Daniel Swafford said. “We are reinstituting what we call an informal adjustment docket.”
Swafford said he has been talking to the district attorney’s office about continuing their partnership.
He said this means for a “small offense” a child would be written a citation and a fine.
“There will be consequences,” Swafford said.
Tanya Southerland of Going Respectfully Against Abusive Behavior (the GRAAB Coalition) and Suzanne Wisdom of Court Appointed Special Advocates presented on how the two groups are partnering to provide a support system to children who are in families in the court system.
“Our office trains volunteers to represent abused kids in the court system and what traditionally used to happen is the child would have a ‘guardian ad litem’ attorney appointed to them and I think the system has just been overloaded,” Wisdom said.
Last year, the organization served 300 children.
“What we are looking at now is we are moving over not just to the custody issues but over to the juvenile side because I think one of our strengths is keeping them out of the foster care system,” Wisdom said. “We like to work with the families before they get to foster care and try to see what we can do.”
Wisdom said CASA is partnering with GRAAB to offer classes in job and life skills for the children CASA works with.
“These kids ... are going through this system and they are in this unstable environment. They are kind of surviving. They aren’t learning how to balance a checkbook or how to fill out a job application,” Wisdom said.
Southerland said many of the parents of these children need encouragement and training to be successful parents, while the students need the skills to break cycles in their past and their families past.
GRAAB’s resource for parents comes in the form of a three-day Parent Enrichment Workshop. The workshop covers topics from effective communication to drug abuse awareness.
The organizations will also partner to offer resources to children in foster care from age 12 to 14 to help them get ready for life on their own.
“We want them to be beyond whatever has happened in their life, whether it is trouble with their family or trouble at school,” Southerland said.
The organizations hope to partner with the YMCA to have mentors for each of the children in these programs.