Columbia County Juvenile Court officials are hoping to curtail juvenile delinquency with a program that promotes family unity.
The program, called Family Solutions, works with both juveniles and their parents on such skills as communication, conflict resolution, decision-making, studying and parenting.
"This is a unique program, because it not only works with the child but with the entire family, including siblings," Columbia County Juvenile Court Chief Probation Officer Margaret Tutt Adams said.
"Often times you can deal with the child, and the child returns to the same environment and nothing changes. This program provides an opportunity for us to work with the whole family."
Funded with a recently approved $19,150 state and federal grant administered by the state Children and Youth Coordinating Council, Family Solutions is a 20-hour program held over 10 weeks. The juvenile court often requires underage offenders to take the class as a probation requirement.
While the program has been taking place for a while, this is the first time Columbia County received the grant for it.
"At the onset, it's something many families feel that they're mandated to do and feel forced," Ms. Adams said. "After a couple of sessions, their opinion changes. They begin to see that this program is meant to bring their family together. Most feel they need to be here."
When a child gets in trouble, the whole family is in trouble, she said.
Up to 10 families at a time can participate in the program, which often substitutes as a support group as much as a class.
"Sometimes parents feel that if their kid breaks the rules or crosses the line, they are alone," Ms. Adams said. "Once they get in this program, they realize they're not by themselves. It reassures them and offers them hope."
Empowering children is the program's ultimate goal, said Ms. Adams, a 26-year veteran of the juvenile court.
"I've noticed that a lot of youngsters act or react to whatever is said or done to them without processing their thoughts," she said. "It's a spontaneous reaction without thinking. We try to teach them to consider the consequences of what they say and do."
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