Juvenile Court Array of Interventions
Fairfield County Juvenile Assessment Center serves as a single point of entry providing individualized processing, screening, and referral of at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. Referrals to the Center can come from the community or from law enforcement.
Assessment Center staff respond to immediate crises as well as ongoing needs of youth and their families, while increasing law enforcement availability to the community through provision of timely service. The Assessment Center partners with community-based agencies to provide coordinated best-practice and cost-effective responses, services and resources to youth and their families – including screenings, assessments, and referrals.
The Center has a dual goal:
- Prevent the progression of behaviors that put the youth at risk of juvenile justice involvement.
- Prevent the use of secure detention for youth who can be safely served while maintaining family stability.
The Center has two different tracks — one for youth transported by law enforcement agencies and one for community-based referrals.
The Community Track strives to keep youth at home and out of the juvenile justice system by connecting families with supportive services to promote safe, healthy, and happy kids. Young people receive early intervention screening and assessment to identify factors contributing to concerning behavior. These informal referrals are accepted from parents and other family members, as well as professionals—including law enforcement, school officials, and agency representatives. The Law Enforcement Assessment Track process begins with an officer bringing a youth to the Center, where custody is exchanged. Once the complaint is completed, the Officer clears the case and returns to duty. Parents/guardians are contacted to come in as well.
There are several possible outcomes of this initial referral, based on the screenings and interview:
- Youth returns home with parent/caregiver; or
- Youth stays with relative/other adult for the night until morning; or
- Youth may be taken to detention by Court staff; or
- Emergency respite is an option that Fairfield County will explore; or
- If no emergency respite is available, detention is not warranted, and no parent/safe place is available, youth may sleep at the Center until the next day.
The Assessment Center staff interact with the Fairfield County Prosecutor to determine if a case can be diverted, should be formally filed, or will be handled informally.
Fairfield County Youth Assessment Center
When a youth is referred to the Juvenile Court as the result of a citation issued by law enforcement, usually for a curfew violation or other minor misdemeanor (such as tobacco possession), a court officer meets with the youth and parent(s). Through a brief interview, recommendations can be made for preventive or other services, and the youth is admonished and released. Informal conferences do not become part of a juvenile’s record.
Diversion Accountability Program (DAP)
Developed in 2015, the Diversion Accountability Program (DAP) is offered as an alternative to formal case processing and/or probation. Extensive research conducted during the past 25 years shows that juvenile offenders deemed at low risk for reoffending benefit most from minimal court intervention. Conversely, research indicates that providing intensive monitoring and treatment to low-risk youth can have a detrimental impact on them. DAP accepts referrals directly from the County Prosecutor or from the Judge/Magistrate when a youth:
- Is alleged to have committed an offense that can range from a status offense to a misdemeanor, * and
- Admits to the offense, and
- Is deemed at low or moderate risk of reoffending as determined through administration of the Ohio Youth Assessment System (OYAS) questionnaire.
In a traditional diversion case, the delinquency or unruly matter proceeds through informal processing as opposed to adjudication. In a case referred from the Judge or Magistrate, the matter has already been filed formally. The youth then enters an admission or is found delinquent; the disposition order is completion of DAP.
Diverting these particular cases from formal prosecution or probation and further involvement with the Court enables the young person to acknowledge responsibility for their actions and, through a contract agreement signed by the parent(s) and youth, accept and complete appropriate consequences. Diversion also provides the youth and family the opportunity to access needed resources, with the goal of preventing further involvement with the juvenile justice system.
Following the referral of a case for DAP, a comprehensive interview with the juvenile and parent(s) is scheduled and facilitated by a Diversion Specialist. During the assessment interview, the Specialist gathers information regarding school behavior and academic challenges, peer relations, and family dynamics. In addition, specific screening is administered for mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as prior or current exposure to trauma. If concerns are identified that may indicate a need for intervention, the Specialist refers the youth and family to appropriate resources; these recommendations are included in the DAP contract.
Other terms of the DAP contact may include the completion of an apology letter, an essay relative to the offense, payment of restitution directly to the victim, community service, referral to the Mentor program, or referral to other programs offered through the Court or within the community.
Youth who are accepted into the Diversion Accountability Program remain in it until all terms of the agreed-upon contract are fulfilled. Upon DAP completion, which averages 60 days, the youth is successfully terminated, and their record is sealed. The time between successful termination and sealing of a Diversion case depends on the level of offense and whether or not the youth reoffends during a specified period of time. If a youth fails to complete the terms of the contract or commits a subsequent offense while on DAP, the case is terminated unsuccessfully and is returned to the Prosecutor for formal processing or is returned to the Court for further orders if already adjudicated.
* In some cases, felonies are addressed through Diversion.
Human trafficking of women and children is a reality for the Fairfield County community. Trafficking in a rural setting may look different than it does in larger urban communities, but its prevalence is increasing.
In 2019, University of Cincinnati identified 4,209 youth in Ohio at risk as victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. This staggering number affects every area of the state, including Fairfield County.
In 2020, Fairfield County Juvenile Court saw an increase in the type of juvenile cases that exhibited red flags of human trafficking.
Ranging from the traditional out-of-state runaway arrested at an airport to young people living in hotels with no visible means of support or parent engagement, these cases were the impetus to a new initiative led by the Court and joined by these Fairfield County community partners: Child Protective Services; Community Action Homeless Youth Program; Family, Adult and Children First Council; and Gracehaven in Columbus.
The name, Safe Harbor, was taken from Ohio legislation that provides for special handling of these troubling cases. Safe Harbor automatically diverts some charges, such as prostitution and soliciting. In rural Ohio, juveniles are not typically receiving those type of charges. However, charges of truancy, theft, and runaway/unruly youth are red flags that human trafficking may be happening. National and other Ohio best practice protocols have been used to develop the Court’s Safe Harbor program.
Judge Vandervoort convened the Fairfield County Safe Harbor Initiative Advisory Board to begin development of a comprehensive county-wide approach. Advisory Board members researched and attended relevant training. A proposal to the Fairfield County Foundation Women’s Giving Circle was submitted to fund community-wide training for Fairfield County child- and family-serving agencies.
Cases diverted through Safe Harbor receive behavioral health assessments and referrals, Child Protective Services involvement, skill-building, and empowerment/support for the youth as well as support in addressing the charges they did receive. The youth, once confirmed into Safe Harbor, is considered a victim or survivor of human trafficking.
The Court’s Behavioral Health Unit developed a human trafficking screening protocol for all youth who interact with the Court, regardless of which pathway they come into the Court.
Positive Youth Development (PYD)
Developed in 2017, the Positive Youth Development (PYD) Program is an intermediate intervention for adjudicated youth who neither qualify for Diversion nor require the more intensive supervision of Probation. Focus of the PYD Program includes the development and enhancement of skills and competencies that reduce at-risk behaviors and lead to stronger pro-social attachments and an increased sense of belonging.
The PYD Program track is available to misdemeanor level offenders, with the possibility for felony offenders to be accepted by judicial discretion. General examples of offenses for which this program is best suited include truancy/school issues, offenses committed due to a mental health disorder, or drug-related charges.
Integration of youth into multiple social environments is a key component of the PYD framework. Each referred youth accepted into the program works with a PYD Specialist to increase involvement in school, civic improvement projects, church-related activities, and/or other community service activities. PYD focuses on the development of new skills and opportunities that enable each youth to actively participate in such activities and to make a positive contribution to their community.
Unlike Probation, PYD minimizes the use of sanctions, focusing instead on identifying and addressing individual strengths and areas of need. By focusing efforts on enhancing and improving various life domains – such as work, education, relationships, community, health, and creativity – the PYD Program provides the support needed for youth to build on leadership strengths.
Community Control, a general term for allowing the Judge or Magistrate to issue all other orders for disposition upon adjudication of a juvenile offender, involves less restrictive monitoring than Probation or the Positive Youth Development (PYD) Program. Youth placed on Community Control are given orders for specific consequences – such as payment of restitution, enrollment in a drug education program, fulfillment of community work service hours, or other orders that are monitored by Court staff through successful completion. For adjudicated youth who do not require the intensity of monitoring or treatment provided through probation or PYD, Community Control is an intervention imposed when a specific Court order must be completed.
Probation is treated as the final step of community supervision and is reserved for adjudicated juvenile offenders who are at higher risk of reoffending. The primary focus of Probation is the safety and security of the youth and the community. Ongoing monitoring of Court orders is accomplished through regular and frequent contact with the juvenile, family, and collateral sources (e.g. school, employer, counselor, etc.) by a Probation Case Manager.
Sanctions for violating Court orders vary, depending upon the severity of the violation. Graduated sanctions may include but are not limited to restriction of driving privileges, house arrest, electronic monitor, no-contact order, community service hours, frequent drug screens, placement at the Reporting Center for up to 20 days, placement in the Community Intensive Services Program (CISP), or Detention.
The Community Intensive Services Program (CISP) is the most intensive level of probation. It is designed to provide an increased level of monitoring for youth who commit more serious offenses, or for chronic offenders. The structured phases of CISP include daily reporting, a GPS monitor, house arrest, mental health counseling, referral to community programs, surveillance, and supervised community service, among other intensive requirements. CISP is ordered for youth who have been on probation and failed or who have not met the conditions of probation and have committed subsequent offenses.
While the number of youth who are served through formal Probation has decreased following the introduction of diversionary programming, the needs of the youth and families served are far more complex, and the case management is more time-consuming.
Research on the impact of detention on adolescent development and mental health indicates that its use increases the likelihood of recidivism and negatively affects future employment and educational opportunities. At Fairfield County Juvenile Court, detention is considered only after other graduated sanctions have been attempted. While placement in secure detention may be ordered for up to 90 days per charge or violation, it is used primarily as a short-term sanction when the youth is a danger to themself or the community, or when the youth is at risk of absconding.