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County to Implement a Non-Detention in Juvenile Hall Policy for Youth Under 13 Years Old

Plans Underway to Implement New Training Program for Foster Care, Avoid Sending Youngsters to Juvenile Hall

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF – Today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors accepted a series of recommendations and policy changes that would guide decisions to limit the detention of children 12 years old and younger in Juvenile Hall. The action followed a report from the Juvenile Justice Commission that looked at the specific circumstances of youth that had been detained.

The Juvenile Justice Commission reviewed the court files of 30 youth 12 years old and under who had been housed in Juvenile hall and had a case opened. Seventeen of them had been a Department of Family and Children’s Services client and had been physically or sexually abused; 11 had a mental health diagnoses including Post Traumatic Disorder Syndrome, bi-polar, depression, borderline personality, suicidal, oppositional defiant and conduct disordered; 13 already had significant drug and alcohol problems; 21 had prior Probation contact without detention; 18 had a parent who was incarcerated, dead or disappeared; six were not attending school at al; 13 were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Serious Emotional Disturbance, and/or have an Individual Education Plan; five have gang affiliation; nine have been or were currently placed in an institutionalized setting; 27 had one or more of the above issues.

“Although Santa Clara County’s Juvenile Hall has made tremendous efforts to serve and help reform the youth who are detained there, the fact remains that it is a detention facility, an incarceration facility first and foremost,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, Chair of the Board’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee. “Young offenders, ages 12 and under, in the majority of instances, do not have the mental capacity or maturity to appreciate the intent of their actions, so a detention environment is not an appropriate setting and would not achieve the rehabilitative goal of helping these young people reenter the world in a healthy manner.”

Although the Probation Department’s recommendations are considered, the Board acknowledged that the final decision about the placement of youth is made by the Courts.

“Adopting a strong public policy statement that commits the county to try every possible option for alternate placement will discourage the notion that Juvenile Hall should be used as a holding facility because of a lack of suitable placement options,” said Supervisor George Shirakawa, Vice Chair of the Board’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee. “The policy will give our professional staff the support they need to work with the nonprofit community and neighboring jurisdictions to develop genuine options for such troubled youth.”

Probation Chief Sheila Mitchell reported on discussions with other Probation Departments in the area and with local community based organizations. She indicated that as a rule, the Probation Department works with community partners to place kids under 13 years old.

“The challenge is to strike a balance between safe options for the child and safety for the community in those cases where egregious crimes have been committed by youngsters,” said Mitchell. “We are currently working with the Bill Wilson Center. They have taken the lead to implement Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) for children in our County. We are exploring this new treatment model that identifies and trains foster care families with specialized skills to deal with troubled youth.”

MTFC is a proven cost-effective alternative to regular foster care, group or residential treatment, and incarceration for youth who have problems with chronic disruptive behavior. The County expects to be able to offer this service through a community based partner, beginning July 1.

Most Bay Area counties struggle with the challenge of appropriate placements for youngsters with serious behavioral challenges. Fresno County has used MTFC model with success for the past four years. The County will examine their approach for lessons learned.

“We are confident that the new policy will enable us to address the needs of each child and obtain the necessary resources for the right placement of these minors,” said Mitchell.

“We have an opportunity to exercise leadership in creating programs that will go beyond the punitive model,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith. “With the right approach and resources, we can help these youngsters, who have experienced so many traumas during their young lives, begin the healing process.”

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Marina Hinestrosa, Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119; Delores Nnam, Probation Department (408) 468-1658 
Posted: May 11, 2010