By RORYE O’CONNOR
For the first time in eight years, professionals who work with troubled youth daily gathered to discuss local youth concerns and how to solve them.
The Mission Possible Coalition gathered more than 30 people who work in the juvenile court system, as counselors, as educators and more to host a youth summit identifying and prioritizing the problems facing Jefferson County youth.
“When we have found the top three to five issues, that is what the Mission Possible Coalition and the Juvenile Justice Council will use to develop a plan,” said Robin Dodd, Mission Possible Coalition director.
Second Judicial Circuit Associate Judge Tim Neubauer, one of the judges who sees juvenile court cases, said the Jefferson County court system is focused on doing whatever it can to stop issues with local youth - sooner than later.
He said the number of truant students he sees in court is growing, because he believes those who monitor truancy are doing a good job.
“As you well know, if you want to start a criminal, have them not go to school when they’re young,” he said. “...If a student doesn’t have a third grade reading proficiency by the time they finish third grade, they are four times more likely to not graduate high school.”
Neubauer added that teens who don’t graduate from high school are much more likely to become felons.
He encouraged those working with youth in the community to plan ahead and to not get frustrated.
To begin the youth summit, the attendees brainstormed issues facing children and parents in the community right now. They focused particularly on children age 10 to 17.
Some of the issues suggested were teen pregnancy, substance abuse, truancy, bullying, vandalism, the lack of affordable mental health services and poor school/parent collaboration.
The attendees also bemoaned the lack of activities for youth, children who don’t know how to behave, parents who don’t have parenting skills and the lack of psychiatric services in the county.
The attendees then placed stickers next to the issues they believed were most prevalent and most pressing in the community.
Some of the issues people thought most needed addressing were parental support and accountability, mental health services, truancy, negative peer influence, substance abuse issues and teen pregnancy.
The next step the group took was to list resources available to local youth and their parents.
Jennifer Shook of One Hope United said her organization offers multi-systemic therapy to families with children in the juvenile court system. She said MST is an evidence-based therapy that is implemented in the home. It teaches parental skills, rewards and consequences, and helps provide parents with behavior management plans.
She said One Hope United visits parents and children involved in this program several times a week to check on their progress.
In addition, the organization collaborates with the schools to build a safety plan for the students involved, and involve teachers in the rewarding of progress.
Shook said MST is funded through Redeploy Illinois and serves 21 children right now. She said the number of children needing this service continues to increase and she fears a long list of children will soon be on the waiting list.
The attendees brainstormed a long list of services available to youth and parents in the area, from school counselors and social workers to church programs and local food pantries.
Dodd said the list of resources would be compiled and distributed to the attendees of the summit. She said the Mission Possible Coalition will meet next Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. to begin discussing its plans for helping to ease the top issues in the area.
She said she was pleased with how the summit went.
“I think the community was well-represented by the people who attended,” she said. “We identified many of the area’s issues and have them prioritized. ... It’s nice to see so many people engaged and caring about what happens to our kids.”