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New program allows Adams County youth courts to better serve families

Written by Dustin B Levy/The Hanover Evening Sun | Feb 21, 2018 1:24 PM
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In this file photo, Adams County held an open house of its new Human Services building on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. The building will house departments like children and youth services, mental health services, domestic relations, probation services, two district court offices and court operations for the county. (Photo: Ty Lohr, The Evening Sun)

(Undated) -- Adams County now has a one-stop shop for juvenile court.

In the second program of its kind in the state, the county will streamline its cases in delinquency and dependency courts with the intention of better serving area families.

The commissioners unanimously approved the measure, directed toward cutting down on redundant court proceedings, on Feb. 14. The initiative, called "shared case responsibility," will allow the county's probation and children and youth services departments to work together on overlapping cases.

"The end result is more efficient services," said county President Judge Michael George. "The families are going one place ... one time, receiving one service."

George recalled prior cases where people working in three different buildings had to come together to make decision on a single case. Often, the families in these cases would be required to attend several hearings within a week.

The decision is expected to save money in the short and long term.

Staff from both departments will work in the same office at the county Human Services Building and share information. There will be less duplication of services, like making referrals for drug and alcohol treatment, George said.

"We're utilizing staff to correctly address the issues which confront the families rather than just assigning duplicate staff, one from each department, to do the same thing," he added.

Local, state and federal money is being spent on these matters because when people remain in the court system, it tends to trickle up, Commissioner Marty Qually said.

"The place where the largest savings is actually at the very end of the process -- if the family improves, if the child improves," Qually said.

Streamlining the services makes the court system more engaging for people in these families and reduces the chance that they will wind up in the system later, Qually said.

The initiative will allow courts to make a single, more informed decision affecting the well-being of a family, ideally improving their circumstances, George said.

The two departments started this process two years ago, according to Laura Rowland, the executive director of county probation services. In the past, probation services focused on accountability and safety for the community related to juvenile delinquency matters, while children and youth services fostered the reunification of children and the safety in their homes.

"We realized, as we kept stepping on one another and pulling in opposite directions to serve the same purpose for these families by providing the support and structure to change something that's happened with these children's lives and to better their situation, that we could collectively come together for a better atmosphere and a more cohesive fashion to provide these services," she said.

Allegheny County is the only other county in the state offering this service.

"I feel like we're kind of leading the way," Rowland said.

George credited the county's new Human Services Building, which brought the offices of several county departments into the same building, with accelerating the process.

The commissioners' approval formalized what has been going on among the departments for a couple months, he said.

"We expect people to be accountable, but we have to give them the ability to reach the expectations," George said. "Now, they're getting a single message from both agencies saying here is what the expectations are. We're going to give you the tools."

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Hanover Evening Sun. 

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