The program, known as the School-Justice Partnerships and Diversion Pathways, is a week-long training designed to provide school district staff, court professionals, law enforcement and other child-serving community leaders with the knowledge and guidance to address the immediate and long-term needs of students who are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Participants in the program will learn research-based approaches to create school-based diversionary programs designed to keep students from falling through the cracks.
“There is a great need to connect all of the important players that are involved when you are dealing with students that are in jeopardy of entering into the juvenile system in Ohio,” said Darrell Yater, Assistant Superintendent of the Northwest Local School District. “If everyone comes to the table to connect and communicate, we can create a system that steers students in a direction that will yield positive outcomes.”
During the workshop, participants will receive training from national experts on promoting equity, addressing systemic injustices that unfairly and disproportionately affect minority groups, learning effective strategies to address childhood trauma, and facilitating cross-sector collaboration. By the end of the week, the partners will have a joint-action plan that will be the foundation for how all agencies will come together to create more positive outcomes for students. Their plan will be followed by the Georgetown staff who will provide technical support during the first year of implementation.
"Our region experiences success when systems are committed to a goal and work together to achieve it," says Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge, John Williams. "This certification program will facilitate difficult dialogue and lead to positive action that will promote school success and change the trajectory of vulnerable students."
Children within the Ohio area are affected daily by various types of trauma; however, there currently is no process or program in place that allows each organization to effectively communicate and work together. Fostering communication between child welfare, juvenile justice, school districts and families supported by Legal Aid will allow all partners to be more efficient in closing the gap and addressing specific needs that will yield better outcomes not only for kids, but their families.
“This partnership is timely for so many reasons. Childhood poverty is very high. Disparities in school disciplinary removals must be addressed in order to promote equity,” said Elaine Fink, managing attorney of the Children and Education Practice Group at Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, LLC. “Many children have been affected by the opioid crisis and other adverse childhood experiences and are dealing with trauma and behavioral health challenges.”
“This is an urgent time for dialogue and transparency in data and outcomes across school districts and the juvenile justice and child welfare systems,” said Fink. Legal Aid is the primary legal resource in southwest Ohio serving those living in poverty. Their services are geared not only towards helping individuals with case-by-case problem resolution, but on larger systemic issues. Their collaboration with other organizations is often the key to addressing the needs of their client
“Young people who come from backgrounds of abuse or neglect are often in survival mode from their traumatic experiences,” said Moira Weir, Director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “We must approach them with that understanding. When we work together and treat them in a holistic manner, we become part of the long-term solution and not just another problem they must overcome. This program will help us design new ways of helping these children reach better tomorrows.”
The Ohio Department of Education has a new strategic plan entitled, Each Child, Our Future, and key features of this plan include the importance of establishing core principles such as equity, partnerships and essential learning domains like social-emotional learning and foundational knowledge and skill development.
“These principles and domains come together to support the whole child. In Ohio, Hamilton County ranks high in factors that contribute to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and adverse community environments” said Kevin Jamison, Director of Student Services at Princeton City Schools. “As one of a number of public school systems embedded in Hamilton County where the rate of child poverty exceeds the state average, we see our fair share of students who come to school needing to access specialized supports to improve their readiness to learn,” said Jamison.
Keeping children in class with their peers involved in meaningful instruction and out of the system is paramount. That is something that Hamilton County ESC (HCESC) fully understands. Hamilton County ESC provides support to educational entities, nonprofits and other government agencies in instruction. They currently have a staff of more than 900 professionals that reach throughout southwest Ohio. Their work impacts over 200,000 students.
“What so often impacts a child's ability to learn and grow, is shaped by forces outside of the school. By partnering with the juvenile justice system and child welfare systems, schools can better tackle the barriers and obstacles to learning that so many children face,” said Rob Kovacs, Communications Coordinator for HCESC. "With the creation of responsive school cultures, we anticipate a decrease in the barriers to student success and an increase in school stability,” said Kovacs.
Funding for the Georgetown School-Justice Partnerships and Diversion Pathways Program was provided by each of the seven participating organizations. Partial funding was also obtained through generous donations from The Haile Foundation, Joining Forces for Children and the Mayerson Center.
For more information about the program, contact the following:
Hamilton County Juvenile Court: Heather Chura HChura@juvcourt.hamilton-co.org
Northwest Local School District: Lyndsey Creecy LCreecy@nwlsd.org
Hamilton County Job and Family Services: Brian Gregg firstname.lastname@example.org
Princeton City Schools: Tricia Roddy email@example.com
Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, LLC: Cynthia Cole firstname.lastname@example.org
Georgetown University: Alex Perry email@example.com
Hamilton County Educational Service Center: Rob Kovacs firstname.lastname@example.org
Cincinnati Public Schools: Fran Russ Russfra@cpsboe.k12.oh.us