The number of local juveniles referred to the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center has dropped 27 percent during the past five years.
“I like to think that Bartholomew County has offered so many services for juveniles in need, that the juveniles are learning,” said Jason Bowser, the center’s director since 2008. “As we give the juveniles tools to succeed, many are doing that and are becoming productive members of society.”
In 2011, the center got 661 referrals, down from 903 just five years earlier. Except for a small year-over-year increase in 2010, the trend of referrals in recent years has been to steadily decline.
The biggest number of referrals are for county juveniles who have run away from home — with 149 of those last year. After that, the largest number of referrals come after juveniles have run-ins with the law, such as being apprehended for theft (79) or battery (78).
However, slightly more than two-thirds of these youth learn their lesson the first time and never return, based on return rates covering the past five years.
Bowser believes it’s because these minors have positive experiences at the center, preparing them to carry out successful lives as adults.
“Our kids aren’t bad,” Bowser maintains. “They’ve made a lot of mistakes. Some bigger, some smaller, but they’re not bad kids. They’ve made bad choices.”
Any child taken into custody in Bartholomew County can be brought to the center for detention or shelter placement, or they can be returned to the custody of their parents or guardians.
Juveniles can also be considered for four other types of programs:
“Most of the youth want to learn and do well,” Bowser said.
The center also provided services last year for 32 juveniles from nearby counties of Brown, Jackson, Johnson, Marion and Shelby.
When the center was created in 1992, Stephen Heimann — just a year into his job as Bartholomew County Circuit Court judge — agreed to provide oversight of the detention center and shelter with one stipulation.
“I went to county council and asked them if they would be supportive of it,” Heimann said. “I told them I didn’t want to run a facility that would be underfunded and run on a shoestring, and they agreed they would not do that.”
Eight Bartholomew County youths and eight out-of-county youths occupied the Youth Services Center in its inaugural year.
“We got state funding so long as we agreed to house eight out-of-county residents,” Heimann said.
But as similar programs have emerged in other counties across Indiana, fewer outsiders have been directed by the juvenile courts to the program.
When Heimann and Chuck Siedelman — a detention center supervisor from Michigan — started Youth Services in 1992, they were starting from scratch. The entity was one of the first of its kind in south central Indiana.
Twenty years later, Youth Services Center is holding true to its mission of providing care, programming, services and advocacy for minors under the jurisdiction of the court in settings that are safe for both the community and youth.
The biggest numbers of youth referred to the center are either 15 or 16. Here is the age breakdown for 2011:
The youngest juveniles brought into the center last year were 9 years old — and there were four of them. Each was returned to the care of their parents.
“There’s no law in Indiana that says what the minimum age is, but Judge Heimann made it very clear that he did not want us placing youth under the age of 10 under security detention,” Bowser said.
The average detention stay last year was 11 days. The average time juveniles were housed in the shelter was 10 days.
The shelter, which temporarily houses abused or neglected children, is licensed to provide beds for up to 10 juveniles at any one time. The detention center, for youth that have run afoul of the law, has a capacity to hold 16 juveniles in secure detention — with one exception.
“If a youth is a danger to themselves or the community, we can hold above the cap of 16 if necessary,” Bowser said.
Throughout the 20 years that the center has been operating, 72 percent of the juveniles have been boys and 28 percent girls. By 2011, however, the percentage of girls had risen to almost one-third — to 32 percent.
Most recently, the Bartholomew Circuit Court reorganized the structure of its programs, and will bring Youth Services under the umbrella of Court Services. That change came about after Bowser announced his plans to step down as of Dec. 3, when he’ll become a full-time stay-at-home dad.
Brad Barnes, director of Community Corrections, which oversees adults, will add the responsibility for overseeing Youth Services. The restructuring will save the county $54,000.
“I trust Brad Barnes,” Bowser said. “He’s got a good heart. I think he’s a great man.”
Bowser, Barnes, Heimann, juvenile magistrate Heather Mollo and about six others are in Las Vegas this week for a national juvenile symposium to get ideas on how to operate juvenile services in the best possible way.
“Some of us are going on grants. Some of us are paying our own way,” Bowser said.
After they return, Bowser said members of the group will meet to determine if the current way of operating still best serves the center’s mission.
Also on their upcoming agenda: Take some time Oct. 23 to mark the center’s 20-year anniversary.
“It is a celebration of what the center has accomplished,” Heimann said, “and what some of our kids have accomplished that have been through here.”
The Bartholomew County Youth Services Center provides seven primary services. Here is a summary:
Secure placement designed for youth awaiting the court process who are considered to be a danger to public safety, likely to re-offend, or flee before their court appearance. Youth may also be sentenced to serve time in secure detention for up to 90 days if they are up to 17 years old, and up to 120 days for those older than 17.
Non-secure, temporary, emergency placement designed to serve status offenders, abused and/or neglected juveniles, children of families in crisis and children and youth awaiting out-of-home placement. Shelter students attend public school and remain active in community-based activities.
The center will accept any youth taken into custody by a law enforcement officer within Bartholomew County, with intake officers available 24 hours a day.
A non-residential intensive program designed to reduce the likelihood of further delinquency by juvenile offenders.
This provides electronic monitoring and home-detention services to juveniles referred by the court.
This service provides transition services of youth who are sentenced to secure detention for 30 days or more.
Juvenile work crew
This service gives the court and probation an option as a graduated sanction, which may keep the youth out of secure detention or an extended probation term.
For more information, go to http://bartholomew.in.gov
If you go
WHAT: Youth Services Center 20th anniversary celebration
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23.
WHERE: Youth Services Center, 2350 Illinois St.
WHAT: The event will include refreshments, tours, door prizes and an art dedication.
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