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Kids soar with mentoring through juvenile justice programs

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 17 March 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 806

When comparing 2019 data to that of the 2016 military structure, youth grievances were down 83%, suicide watches down 93%, use of physical restraints down 31% and program completions were up 45%. 

Additionally, two Williamson County district judges involved with youth dockets, Family Court Judge Betsy Lambeth and Juvenile Court Judge Stacey Mathews, were trained, along with their staff in TBRI and hosted a legal conference in 2017 that focused on it. With the TBRI approach, probation violation revocations fell from 86 cases in fiscal year 2016 to 26 cases in fiscal year 2019. (Data from fiscal years 2020 and 2021 are too distorted by COVID-19 to include). 

Further, Mathews challenged the juvenile center staff to meet the needs of some of their toughest cases to reduce the number of kids committed to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, the state correctional facility. Indeed, the TBRI approach and refined collaboration among the staff even reached those kids, and in fiscal year 2019, only one child was committed to the state facility, keeping youths in residential services closer to home in Williamson County.

This work is not limited to the kids in juvenile services. TBRI is being taught to families, schools and community providers by staffers of the juvenile center to further support progress for these kids as they transition to home and their communities.

On Feb. 15, Juvenile Services was recognized by the Commissioners Court for being designated as a TBRI Ambassador Organization, the fifth group in the world and first juvenile justice agency to receive such a designation from the Karyn Purvis Institute. 

That’s not all. There’s another connected axis of approach with these kids. It’s referred to as “finding their spark(s).”  The Search Institute, a nonprofit that promotes positive youth development and advances equity, explored why some young people thrive while others don’t. The institute defines interests and passions as “sparks,” lighting a child’s life when encouraged to pursue them. Anyone can support a child in discovering their sparks known to promote positive developmental and academic outcomes. The Search Institute’s research indicates more avenues to these sparks would lead to greater school success as kids connect with the programs and commit to them. 

Juvenile services staff work alongside parents and youths to identify each child’s spark, find a pathway for them to participate in it, and then support it. They encourage the families of these kids to join outings to share in the experience, like simple picnics where there may be canoeing, fishing and biking. Others may be painting, writing, music and athletics. Juvenile services staff reach out to the community with needs, and businesses and citizens respond by providing musical instruments, reduced fees for lessons, free gym memberships, and even purchasing and delivering basketball goals to homes.

Addressing trauma as the root cause and developing sparks is changing the trajectory of these kids’ lives, thanks to the courage to seek change and be that change at Williamson County Juvenile Services.

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