Program aims to collaborate on juvenile offenders

Announcing the Community Connections partnership Friday are, from left, Rubin Nieto, area director, Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart County; Leah Plank, senior director of area services, CAPS; Kutrina Butler, supervisor, juvenile community corrections; Elkhart Police Chief Chris Snyder; and Deborah Domine, Elkhart County juvenile magistrate.

ELKHART — Multiple agencies that serve children and families announced a new collaborative approach to intervention that they built together from the ground up.

Elkhart County Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine joined leaders from the Elkhart Police, Juvenile Community Corrections, Child and Parent Services and the Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart County to announce the launch of the Community Connections program. Starting Sept. 9, the mentoring program will take children and their parents through volunteer service hours, life-skills classes and other activities.

The joint development of the program “is evidence that we believe that working together is the only way that we’re going to truly be able to address juvenile delinquency,” Domine said. “Certainly, consequences are important in addressing juvenile delinquency, but so are rewards and so is giving kids guidance and direction so that they can be more than what they look like on paper when we look at their juvenile record.”

She said a child enters the program through a court referral – “tragically, they have to get into trouble to get into this program” – and is placed into Juvenile Community Corrections. The agency then works with everyone else involved.

Children who are referred to the program have to complete 10 hours of community service at the Boys and Girls Club, working as a mentor with the younger members, said Rubin Nieto, area director. They also have to do 10 hours of club programming, tailored to either boys or girls and focused on helping them develop healthy attitudes and make good choices.

Meanwhile, their parents will participate in the Positive Parenting Program offered by Child and Parent Services, or CAPS. 

The program is meant to help youngsters improve their academic performance and develop their plan for the future. Education goals include having at least 85 percent of participants receive no failing grades in school, with the eventual goal of seeing 100 percent pass all their classes and at least half of them receive no grades lower than a C.

The Elkhart Police Department is involved by making home visits and checking on the child’s progress. Chief Chris Snyder said they hope to reduce the number of repeat offenders through the partnership.

“A big part for the police department on it, is once we’re done with our paperwork and once the court process is over, we’re taken out of the picture for the most part,” he said. “So this gives us an opportunity then to go back and work with the kids, to help improve their lives, so they don’t have that over-and-over-and-over again where they’re in the system.”

‘What can we do different?’

Nieto said the program was developed by Kutrina Butler, supervisor of Juvenile Community Corrections, and Elkhart Officer Brandon Roundtree, who both approached the Boys and Girls Club.

“It was really the brainchild of Brandon Roundtree, Kutrina and Quenton Williams, who’s on staff at Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “They really kind of put their heads together and said, ‘What can we do differently to support the young people in our community?’”

Butler said she expects to see about 21 families a year go through the program. Participants will be chosen from among the low- and medium-risk youth offenders.

Domine said she looks forward to celebrating with the families who complete the program. She said children in her court are typically there until they get it right – they have to keep seeing her until they make some positive changes.

“Everything is evidence-based anymore. And this is pretty easy to track whether or not this has positive results,” she said. “I have to track the number of cases that are filed in my court year-in and year-out with the Supreme Court, and if those cases go down, I’m saying that this is a success. If they go up, we’ll have to look at it.”

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