Juvenile Justice Program Highlight

By Jim Bennett | NJJA President 

As Nebraska continues with juvenile justice reform, the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association (NJJA) will continue to provide juvenile justice research, training opportunities, and news relating to system change in our great state. In addition, NJJA will now be sharing a Provider Highlight as a part of our newsletter. This Highlight is an avenue by which we will shine light on the great work being done in our state and to honor the commitment of agencies, organizations and providers who are making a system impact on the reform efforts of Nebraska.

July Program Highlight: Heartland Family Service – Crisis Mediation Team

The Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association (NJJA) has spoken with countless juvenile justice stakeholders from across our great state in order to gain a feel for up-front work being conducted by our valued pool of juvenile justice providers. In the February newsletter we highlighted Jenda Family Services and their collaboration with the probation office in Lancaster County and their delivery of service to juvenile justice youth. This month, NJJA moves to Sarpy County and highlights the work of Heartland Family Service and their Crisis Mediation Team (CMT).

As we all know, there are times that families encounter conflicts that can escalate to the point that an intervention is necessary. Situations arise such as: children running away, physical altercations, and issues regarding parents and children in crisis. CMT provides immediate assistance to families experiencing these behavioral crises. CMT therapists quickly intervene to provide therapeutic screening, referral, and community service recommendations to the youth and family with the main goal of this program being keeping the family intact with specific safety measures in place. CMT is provided at no cost to the referral source or client, and participation is voluntary. The CMT program runs 24/7, 365 days a year.

We talked with Jenny Stewart, Director of Crisis Response Services with Heartland Family Service and discussed what the alternative had been when services like theirs were not available. “Prior to the development and implementation of the CMT, youth with behavioral issues had not been receiving needed services to help the youth and family cope with current issues.” Stewart outlined the consequences that this lack of service had for the youth, “Many families who struggle with youths who act out verbally and physically simply have no idea where to go for assistance so they often call 911 as a way to handle a difficult situation. As a result the youth may end up being charged with a legal offense when what would have been more helpful to the family would have been to connect the family to needed community resources.”

Erin Sliva, Juvenile Justice Resource Supervisor in Judicial District 2 was the professional who brought the work of the CMT to our attention. “The concept is an expansion of a similar service Heartland Family Service was providing for psychiatric crisis situations. The CMT service expanded their coverage for youth and families in a family and/or behavioral crisis. CMT’s target population is those youth/families who have not entered the court system, early system involved youth/families, or system involved youth with minimal services already in place.” The program is showing promising outcomes as well according to Sliva. “The service was implemented on April 7, 2015 in Sarpy County with expansion in December 2015 to Cass County. As of May 31, 2016, there have been 116 face to face referrals where CMT responded in both counties. Of these referrals; 110 remained in the community, 4 remained in the community with additional community detention alternatives, 1 removed by CPS, and 1 was taken by the family for Medical Evaluation.” There have not been any referrals needing Probation to review out of the community placement options.” Sliva also highlighted a partnership Heartland Family Service has created with Region 6 Behavioral Health Care, this gives “direct access to refer these youth/families to Rapid Response Case Management within 24 business hours of a referral.  Of the total referrals, 68 have been referred to Region 6 Rapid Response, 104 to Mental Health Services, and 36 to Substance Abuse Services.  All of these services were accessible to the families without the need for court system involvement.”

The impact of a service is best told by the people receiving the service. Some of the feedback received from the parents of the youth served were: “I’m so thankful I live in Sarpy County and this (CMT) is available.”, “Without all the services (CMT) it would be tragic. It has been a blessing.”, and (CMT) “an answered hope”. Steward isn’t one to say the work can’t be done better though. “We still have a long way to come for assisting families with youth with behavioral problems,” she says. “Assisting our youth and families in behavioral crisis is just the first step in needed services to these families. Most families are in need of longer term community resources to heal the brokenness within the families.”

With a 92% success rate in the of keeping youth in their communities and away from law contacts in their first 8 months of operation, it appears that youth in Sarpy County are in strong hands and in a service that is doing what it set out to do.

On behalf of NJJA, we want to thank Heartland Family Service CMT for its commitment to serving system-involved youth and families. This is one example of the great work that is ongoing in our state that will help make Nebraska’s juvenile justice system the very best in the United States.