‘All students have dignity, worth and the ability to learn’
The Lycoming County Juvenile Probation Office serves a critical mission: To protect the community while holding juveniles accountable for their actions, victim restoration and building the youths’ competencies.
This is accomplished in two ways, said Ed Robbins, chief juvenile probation officer of Lycoming County.
“Supervision and assessment,” he said. “There are two things, by law. We perform background investigations on all of the arrest reports that come in. Staff meets with the youth and the family. We ask them a number of questions about background, behavior, drug and alcohol use. We do a risk and needs assessment. Then we come up with a recommendation to take into court, where the judge decides guilt or innocence.”
If found guilty, Robbins said a recommendation is offered for what is determined to be in the best interest of the youth, which typically involves probation and sometimes treatment, depending on the risk and needs score.
When the office found itself in need of a local community-based program to replace one that soon would be ending, Robbins contacted a peer in a different part of the state who was successfully running a Violation Initiative Program/Aftercare (VIP) through JusticeWorks YouthCare.
Founded in 1999, JusticeWorks’ mission is to “build better futures for youth, families and communities,” through innovative programs that identify and build on the youths’ and families’ strengths, like its VIP program.
The family-centered approach works to strengthen the family’s ability to provide appropriate boundaries, direction and support and, according to the website, the youth who are referred to VIP are typically “one call away” from placement in the juvenile justice system.
After working with JusticeWorks to design what the local program needed to look like, the organization began reaching out to prospective directors to run it. One of them, at Robbins’ recommendation, was Ian Nutt. Although he was involved in something else at the time, he jumped at the opportunity to help build the local program from the ground up.
“Our JusticeWorks team met with Ed Robbins in early 2015 to discuss a potential collaboration to provide innovative and progressive services to youth and families within Lycoming County,” said Ian Nutt, director of the city’s JusticeWorks YouthCare. “We discussed the needs within the community, and ways in which JusticeWorks might be able to fill those needs.”
Nutt said between the leadership of Robbins and JusticeWorks, it was determined that the VIP program, which is strongly aligned with Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy, would be the best fit for youth in need of additional supports under the supervision of juvenile probation.
In February 2018, the Juvenile Probation Office strengthened its partnership with JusticeWorks to enhance its community service program. With a contract ending soon with another provider, it was important to continue this integral piece of the program. According to Robbins, in 1996, the purpose clause of the juvenile justice system was changed to require the office to “hold kids accountable, to protect the community and build competencies and skills.”
“We didn’t want our staff to do it because we’re supervisors,” Robbins said. “We needed a provider to do it and they (JusticeWorks) jumped at the opportunity.”
According to Nutt, the Community Service Program (CSP) provides “opportunities and supervision for Lycoming County youth between the ages of 11 to 18 to fulfill their court-imposed community service and restitution obligations.”
“The program focus is to find alternate sites for youth to provide community service with program outputs tracked,” he said. “While the service will result in fulfillment of community service obligations, a key component will be to work with youth to understand and empathize with the pain caused by their delinquent acts to individuals and the community.”
Community Service Program
Since its inception, JusticeWorks has worked with about 40 youth in the Community Service Program, with each youth volunteering about 95 days for a total of about 30 community service hours — more than 1,200 hours of community service and equating to about $8,700 at the minimum wage rate in donated time.
From removing graffiti from local highway underpasses to serving food to families in need and becoming involved with Goodwill Industries International Inc., the Salvation Army, Williamsport Branch YMCA, Lycoming County SPCA, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, Bicycle Recycle and various city and township sites, youth are provided with an “opportunity to restore relationships with their victims.”
“An overarching goal of the service will be to redirect delinquent youth towards positive pro-social attitudes and skills and to avoid further delinquency. Part of the effort of CSP will be to teach job readiness skills so youth have more positive options and an ability to earn money legitimately,” Nutt said. “A collateral goal is to improve cost-effectiveness by shortening length of time on probation by facilitating connections to the community, complete community service obligations, while also reducing the risk of out-of-home placement by implementing accountability as the youth remains in the home.”
Compass Academy Lycoming
In addition to its VIP and CSP programs, JusticeWorks also offers an alternative education program, Compass Academy Lycoming, to youth from surrounding school districts who have demonstrated behavioral issues within the school setting. The students are removed from the traditional classroom in order to address disruptive behaviors with teachers that are trained to focus on issues related to behavioral and anger management, building self-esteem, improving motivation to learn and to gain skills for successful living. Congruent with the state’s academic standards, Nutt said students enrolled in the program can earn credits from their sending school. The organization was proud to announce that all six of its seniors would graduate at the close of the 2018-2019 school year.
“JusticeWorks believes that all students have dignity, worth and the ability to learn,” Nutt said. “Our programs are specifically designed to meet the needs of the school district by providing a program for their students who need more assistance to be successful.”