News and Tribune on 11/17/2017 by Elizabeth DePompei
JEFFERSONVILLE — Olivia Hilton, a 17-year-old high school junior, sometimes thinks about where she might be if it weren’t for Family Time, a social service agency that helps hundreds of families across Southern Indiana.
About two years ago, Hilton was charged as a runaway and placed on probation. As part of the terms of probation, she was referred to a day reporting program at Family Time. After school, Hilton would go to the Community Action of Southern Indiana building in Jeffersonville where Family Time operates. The program — much like an after school program — gave her structure, support and responsibilities. It changed her life, she said.
“It helped me greatly, because I needed a good influence in my life and good advice,” Hilton said. “Plus, the people there, I think that was the key to me was having people there to support me so I didn’t feel so alone. It changed my life greatly, honestly.”
Family Time is hoping to keep changing lives. Last week, the Jeffersonville Board of Zoning Appeals approved the organization’s plans to run its day reporting program out of a small home on Penn Street. Family Time Director Angela Ray said the new space could be a game changer. Confined to the CASI building, the capacity of the program was more limited, and participants often had to go outside the building to places like the library.
“This [new location] is everything, because they didn’t have a home otherwise,” Ray said. “So without this, the program would be dead in the water really. So then those kids, what happens if the kids don’t have anywhere to go, they get locked up, basically.”
The walls inside the Penn Street house are freshly painted, with colors chosen by some of its current program participants. The room with the bright green walls will be the homework room, Ray said, and the blue room will be the “chill room.” There’s an office space for the program manager, a bathroom, a front living room for group meetings and a kitchen where participants can cook and eat together. Out back, there’s a small yard and two buildings that could be used for storage or workshops.
Family Time will still have an office in the CASI building, but the new location could help expand the day reporting program. It is now the only program of its kind in Clark County since Family Ark ceased its juvenile day reporting program earlier this year. Ray said Family Time’s program has had as many as eight juveniles at once, but could possibly hold up to 20. Since it began in 2014, it has served around 50 juveniles.
Beyond providing a safe, supportive environment, Family Time also aims to take juveniles in the criminal justice system and put them to work in their community through volunteering. The idea, Ray said, is to get the youth invested in their community and to stop a cycle of crime before it starts.
Henry Ford, Clark County’s assistant chief probation officer, oversees juvenile probation. He said his office received around 500 referrals from the Clementine B. Barthold Juvenile Detention Center in 2015. Another 100 to 200 referrals came from police officers coming first to the probation office instead of the detention center.
Unlike with adults, the probation office is involved with juvenile cases from the very beginning, instead of waiting until the case is decided in the courtroom. Juvenile probation officers make recommendations on what should come following the arrest, including whether the prosecutor should file formal charges. Those who are booked into the juvenile detention center are assessed and can be released with certain conditions, like day reporting. Others find their way to day reporting after being sentenced to probation by a judge.
It’s is one of many tools Ford said juvenile probation officers have, and it’s an important one.
“It is very, very important and what we have found [is] that most juveniles referred to day reporting successfully leave that program,” Ford said. “They are not re-arrested while they’re in that program — not always, but it’s had great success.”
Despite the volume of juvenile cases going through the probation office, Ford said getting them into a day reporting program isn’t a problem. In fact, he said, there weren’t enough to fully occupy two programs when Family Ark was still running its own.
Ray said a testament to the day reporting program’s success is if that people come back even after they complete the program. Hilton is one of those people. She now volunteers for Family Time and hopes to help the people who are where she was two years ago.
“It feels actually amazing being able to help people … because when I was in my situation, I didn’t have anybody to help me, anybody to really give me guidance or information or good encouraging words like you can get through this,” Hilton said. “So I just feel honored to be in someone else’s life, being that kind of person, because I didn’t have anybody like that.