Helping Family Initiative focuses on student success

Published 10:14 am Monday, July 9, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Behavioral issues at school can often mean there is more going on in a student’s life than is seen on the surface.

While school systems are limited in how they can address disruptive behavior and address root causes, the 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office offers the Helping Family Initiative designed to help students get back on track and keep them from committing criminal acts.

The initiative focuses on keeping children deemed at high risk by the school system from choosing to commit a crime and providing resources to address the root problems of behavioral and truancy issues.

C.J. Robinson, 19th Judicial Circuit chief deputy district attorney, said many times when a student is repeatedly getting in trouble for truancy or behavior at school there is more than one issue that is a contributing factor.

During the 2017-2018 school year, 62 students in Chilton County were referred to the program. Of these referrals, 28 were for truancy and 26 were for behavior-related issues.

“In Chilton County, we actually had more students referred to the program than any of the other school systems,” Robinson said.

Other 19th Judicial Circuit school systems participating include Tallassee City, Autauga County and Elmore County schools.

Once referral is made an initial visit to the student’s home and assessment are made.

“Our case officer goes into the home of the child being referred to see what services may be need to be offered … it is individualized,” Robinson said.

An Individualized Intervention Plan is developed by the case officer, which may include referrals to other services offered by other local or state agencies to address specific needs.

“Sometimes it is very rewarding, when it works, to know that you didn’t just shove a square peg in a round hole, that you carved out a plan that works for this child to try to make them successful,” Robinson said.

The District Attorney’s Office enforces the IIP, requiring parents to comply.

“The DA is not making any money off this program,” Robinson said. “It is there to keep children from becoming criminals, try to keep graduation rates high, keep people in school and off the street.”

There have only been a few times since the program’s inception in 2007 that parents have refused to comply and arresting officers had to be brought in.

“We have had a lot of success with parents that may have been reluctant to begin with, once they realize that they can actually be prosecuted for not following what’s recommended,” Robinson said. “It has tended to stick, and I am very proud of that.”

While the program has participants from ages 5 to 18, it is especially effective with children 8 to 13, Robinson said.

Clanton Middle School counselor Malia Robinson said the Helping Family Initiative goes beyond what the school is able to offer and is effective in addressing the root cause of behavior problems.

“(The case officer) is able to hold these parents accountable when it comes to getting their children the help they need,” Robinson said in a letter of support for the program.

Sherry Parrish, a counselor at Jemison Intermediate School, has also seen the program in action.

“We have seen significant improvements in the students and families referred for services,” Parrish wrote in a letter of support for the program.

Chilton County joined the program in 2016. This first year was funded by the University of Alabama, “who started getting behind the Helping Families program and wanted to see it stabilized,” Robinson said.

The Chilton County Board of Education approved funding for the second year of the program. The cost of the program for the school system is $38,000 to cover the officer’s salary, travel costs to participants’ homes and any equipment needs.

The school system also provides office space at Pass Academy to the case officer.

A contract renewal for the 2018-2019 school year is expected to be discussed at a board meeting later this month.

During a board meeting in June, Robinson presented the board with a report of how many children had been served by the program in the 2017-2018 school year.

“It has come a long way, and I am excited about seeing it continue,” Robinson said.

Case officers keep track of how many students are in the program, whether they have completed the program and whether the student had committed a crime while in the program.  Out of all four school systems, only one student “committed a criminal act” while in the program last year.