Agencies work to support families

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Judge Jim Kramer wouldn’t mind seeing a few less names on his docket. And Bill Bostick, chief assistant district attorney, wouldn’t mind having a few less juvenile cases to try.

Both plan to bring their offices to the table to help the Shelby County School System keep kids from reaching that point through the Supporting Families Initiative launched last week.

“I like any project that’s main goal is to keep a kid out of the court system,” Kramer said. “If I put a parent in jail, that’s not going to fix the family. That’s not going to help the family.”

Students often end up going through the juvenile court system after repeated behavioral or attendance issues.

In the past, the school system could file a CHINS or Child in Need of Supervision report after a student had shown a pattern of bad behavior that did not change after three in-school or out-of-school suspensions or recurring absences. They would then be required to attend an agency meeting with representatives from the department of human resources, the school system and others.

But a new Juvenile Justice Act goes into effect in January that would strip the system of that right.

Senior juvenile probation officer David Hall said that means making an additional effort to get kids back on the right path.

“Our plan is to call in anyone who can help provide services to these families,” Hall said. “We’ve tried something similar in the past but unfortunately follow through with the parents wasn’t always good.”

He said that’s where Dorann Tanner comes in. The school system hired Tanner as a social worker to run the SFI program. Tanner said her role is to intervene with the families and find out the underlying reasons for a student’s poor behavior or recurring attendance issues. She then will set up a meeting to look for resources.

“Before, if a family called an agency and there was a three month wait, that family probably would have gotten discouraged. By the time these families get to me they are in crisis … they can’t wait three months,” Tanner said. “Now I can say here’s the number, here’s the guy.”

A meeting held Dec. 16 included representatives from social service and non-profit agencies that provide everything from counseling to food for families in need. Student services director Donna Dickerson said she hears the need everyday.

“On a day in and day out basis that phone never stops ringing,” Dickerson said. “We realized every year that we were having a problem connecting. Doran is going to be real personal with those parents and help us address that disconnect.”