Helping a child by strengthening the family unit is the goal of a pilot project underway in Izard County. Juvenile Officer Tommy Adcock, Juvenile Court Judge Stephen Choate and members of the Melbourne community came together Nov. 13 to explain a new program they hope will soon be in place in all five counties in the 16th Judicial District which also includes Fulton, Independence, Cleburne and Stone counties.
Families in Need of Services (FINS) is a court petition that identifies and assists families and children in need to obtain services and correct whatever issues brought the family into the Juvenile Court system as quickly as possible. To do this, a new program REAL (Realistic Encouragement to Adapt for Life) will bring together all community agencies as well as area businesses and organizations to provide services, incentives and encouragement to help these families meet goals needed to exit the court system.
The REAL program is a 90-day program that will involve new FINS petitions as well as families that have already been determined as a FINS if the court finds it appropriate.
According to a press release, the program will operate as follows:
Month one - Based on an assessment completed by a juvenile officer, the family will access all available and needed services in the community to improve its situation. The officer will coordinate the services and assist the family with monitoring for the court.
Month two - The FINS family will continue with the services but will also receive a REAL Community Card if improvement is noted by all involved services. Local businesses and organizations will be asked to provide discounts and incentives to the card holder as a reward and motivator for positive progress.
Month three - The FINS family continues the services. It will be expected that positive progress will be observed in all family members with little court involvement. If this is done successfully, the court may release the family from the REAL program and the court systems.
According to Hancock, in order for the REAL program to be successful a variety of community services will need to be available to families. One such program called RIDE (Realistic, Intensive, Drug Education) is being developed in Izard County. RIDE is a partnership between the juvenile court, Izard County law enforcement, the school system and Health Services of Arkansas.
"This program tells drug users, 'if you're going to choose to use drugs, there are going to be people watching,' " Hancock said. "This is not just the kids, this is anybody in the immediate family. By virtue of the court order, the four partner organizations will have the ability at any given time, night or day, to call a drug test. Some people say that could border on harassment, and in a sense it does, but that's kinda our goal. If they make the choice to do (drugs) this is a consequence."
In addition, parents or guardians will be responsible to know, at all times, where their kids are and what they are doing. "There are laws that have to be kept, parenting laws," Hancock said. "Mr. Powell may represent the school, and he could call the parents at 10 p.m. and ask them if they know where (their child) is, and they need to know where that child is."
Another program in Izard County will provide those with a drug problem some much needed help. "There's an education program being developed as well,"?Hancock said. "Health Resources is going to provide a drug counselor once a month at Melbourne for our families and kids, and we're going to build on that."
Bellview Baptist Church in Melbourne has a faith based program geared to help families build stronger ties and values. Although the court cannot order a family to take part in the program, Judge Choate says this is an impressive program he often requests the family take part in. Pastor Dave Seaford said the program was developed by Family Life Ministries in Little Rock. "Homebuilders is an opportunity for families to learn how to communicate with each other; how to listen, how to hear, and how to develop core values," Seaford said. "Often we see the basis of the home is sinking, and if there isn't any solid core values to stand on, there's nowhere for (a family to start). We begin with Biblical principals and move out from there."
A parenting program that was started in Batesville has been a great success according to Hancock, and the Melbourne schools are sponsoring this same program in Izard County. "It's an intensive parenting program, with a difference," Hancock said. "Most parenting programs are where you watch a video and go home and apply the principles. This program actually puts a parenting instructor in the home five days a week, two hours a day. The instructor works on the basic needs of the family. Health Resources are a partner of this, developing group counseling programs to work with the kids. Carla Jones is a local therapist who has offered services for sexual abuse victims and anger management groups. Law enforcement is also a part of the RIDE program as well as others."
Melbourne has started a Cub Scout Pack. Judge Choate can order a child into the program who may not have had the chance without this push. Without the court, the child's parents may not have let them be a part of it. "There has been some concern about putting those kinds of kids in a Cub Scout Pack and making sure the right supervision is there. That's been taken care of because I'm the Cub Master," Hancock said.
Another program available to the court is the Optimist Club of Izard County. They have started the Izard County Community Family Theater. A community theater aimed at family productions. The judge has ordered several people to help with the stage crew.
"Our goal is to increase community support, to get kids in the system, meet their needs and get them out of the court system, to identify the kids on the front end who quickly get out and be successful or for kids who have been in the system for a while and need a light at the end of the tunnel, who need a fast track out of the door of the court system," Hancock said.
Judge Choate said that FINS is a community program. "When we were growing up, you didn't do things because your parents would spank you or give you a time out or something," Choate said. "There was a consequence for doing something you weren't suppose to do. We have laws like stopping at a stop sign. If you don't obey the law and stop the consequences are that you'll probably have a wreck and have a fine to pay."
"Things have changed since I was a kid growing up," Choate said. "We wouldn't let a 9-year-old boy go to a ballfield and work a job sweeping up without some kind of supervision. But kids will do what they have available to them like the TV or the internet. If we can grow a generation that are working and morally sound, it's good for business. They will become adults who will become shoppers."
"When we were young, the law enforcement community played a role in our life," Choate said. "If you got into any minor trouble, they went and told your folks and that was the worse thing they could do. You'd rather have them do anything then tell your parents. That was the leverage that law enforcement had over you in a small town."
"This program brings all aspects of the community together for our kids because our kids are faced with things we were never faced with," Choate said. "I didn't have a TV to give me ideas or video games to desensitize me from reality. We were community oriented but now we've gotten to be so individualistic that we don't bring ourselves into the community as a whole. This program will help me as a judge, with options for dealing with kids. The FLO (Family Life Outreach) program and the Homebuilders have the same intent - how can we be a family group? One of my FLO families had never ate supper together, and in this program they ate supper together, and it was a time they really enjoyed. They said they didn't know what they were missing. Most of us learn our parenting skills from our parents, and if we don't have a good example, you're sunk. FLO uses the Old Testament as an example, because where can you find an example of being worse people than the Old Testament? They did things that are just unbelievable and it's a wonderful example to use about what not to do to each other and how to correct it."
"Peer pressure is unbelievably powerful," Choate said. "If we can do something to break that peer pressure, because a lot of times peer pressure is just lies. It's a different world today and we need to come up with positive things to make it work. I would like to see us make it a goal to start a FINS case and terminate it within 90 days. By bringing in resources from the community they will still be there for the child and family later on."
"One of the best volunteer groups we have is CASA," Choate said. "CASA volunteers are child advocates. Instead of DHS trying to work 40 cases, the volunteers help with some of these children."
"I also like to get churches involved with these families," Choate said. "In a church you will always find people willing to give of their time and talents. FLO is in a church but is not a religious program so I can order families to attend this. The first three to four weeks they are resistant, it's a 12-week program, of course they are strangers. About week four or five they become familiar, they see the church people are trustworthy, and that they're not out to get something. They see the other people in the group and they see, 'hey, I'm not alone in this problem I've got.' It just blossoms."
"These programs allow the community to minister to its own people. Who knows the people of Izard County or Fulton County better than the people who live there?" Choate said.
"When you throw in the factor of drugs, that just destroys families. Families that are in my court through DHS," Choate said, "are about 80 percent meth users. Meth is such a hard thing to stop. It destroys families."
"Anything the community can do to help these kids and their families, I as the court, will back them up, because I have some teeth that will force things. I can try to get people into drug treatment," Choate said. "Families are being torn apart through drugs. We need to do everything we can to help families find the help they need to put their family on solid footing."