MAHONING COUNTY Program to help parents, problem children



Mahoning is one of three counties chosen to pilot the program in Ohio.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge Theresa Dellick's approach to fighting juvenile crime is simple: Nip it in the bud.
That's the philosophy behind a pilot program being implemented at Mahoning County Juvenile Court, in which parents will be taught how to deal with difficult teens.
Mahoning is one of three counties -- Cuyahoga and Stark are the others -- chosen by the state to be test sites for the program, which begins in September.
Offered through the state attorney general's office, the 10-week program is for parents of strong-willed or out-of-control children between 11 and 17.
The curriculum teaches prevention, identification and intervention strategies for the most destructive adolescent behaviors. Those behaviors may include poor school attendance or performance, substance abuse, criminal gang involvement, runaway tendencies and acts of violence.
Classes are once a week, and the program is not an option for teens accused of violent crimes such as murder or felonious assault, or for sex offenders, Judge Dellick said.
"This gives parents no-nonsense solutions, which they need," Judge Dellick said. "I don't want people to think that bad kids come from bad parents. It's just that parenting is a very difficult job, and some need more training."
Requirements
Kateeka J. Harris, juvenile court intake director, said the program requires parents and children to jointly attend classes, do homework assignments and practice what they learn.
"It's truly a collaborative program," Harris said.
There is no cost to join the program, although participants are required to buy a textbook that costs less than $20. The child involved does not have to be cited into juvenile court or get into trouble with the law to qualify, either.
In fact, Harris and Judge Dellick said it's best to get children into the program before they do end up in trouble. That way, the negative or destructive behavior patterns can be changed.
Judge Dellick said she expects about half the participants to be parents who have problem children and call the court for help. The other half will be referred or ordered by the court to attend.
Harris said 19 people from various county agencies and private organizations have volunteered to serve as instructors. All went through required training by the attorney general's office. The curriculum was developed by a team of teachers, psychologists, law enforcement personnel and parents.
Class sites
Classes will be offered at Forum Health Northside Medical Center, New Bethel Baptist Church and Hope House. Court officials are looking for other sites around the county that would be willing to host classes as well.
Judge Dellick said classes will be held outside the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center to avoid the stigma of parents' taking their children to court.
She said 34 other states already use a program similar to the one being tested here, and each reports about a 33 percent decrease in juvenile crime and school truancy.
Program information and statistics from the three pilot counties will be collected and processed by Kent State University, with the goal being to prove that the program is worthwhile for statewide implementation. Judge Dellick said she expects it to be a huge help in Mahoning County.
"We're 19th in the nation for juvenile crimes. We've got to do something," she said.
A brochure from the attorney general's office says more than 100,000 families nationwide have attended Parent Project classes.
bjackson@vindy.com

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