‘Project Turn Around’ receives funding

Published 8:01 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011

After years of watching at-risk youth cycle through the criminal justice system — only to “graduate” to further problems as adults — judicial officials are looking for new ways to turn those young lives around.

With budget cuts across the state, those innovations are harder to afford.

But Escambia County received a grant this month that will help implement a new program — Project Turn Around — to help reach those at-risk youth and their families right here at home, rather than sending them to facilities elsewhere in Alabama.

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“You can’t believe how happy we are to be giving you this money,” Department of Youth Services Director Walter Wood told youth court officials of the $123,000 grant he delivered Tuesday. “You have proven to us that this … is something communities will put their arms around.”

Until now, youth who commit minor violations — such as truancy or petty theft — have been sent to youth facilities around the state, where they might be paired with youth offenders who are much more violent, Wood said.

“We were growing criminals where we could have been doing something different,” he said.

Escambia County’s Turn Around Project will keep those at-risk youth at home — but provide intense intervention not only for them but their entire families.

“Escambia County people know Escambia County kids,” juvenile protection officer John Fountain said. “This grant will serve kids with two or more adjudications. We are targeting our high-risk kids. We will wrap these services around the family.”

Programs paid for by the grant will include character building and leadership as well as family support, Fountain said.

Serving the family is an important component of the project, he said.

“Sometimes a kid comes back (from a state facility) different — but the family hasn’t changed,” he said.

Youth Court Judge Dave Jordan said the grant will be a more effective use of state funding.

“This is the best bang for the taxpayer’s dollar,” he said. “These are the kids most likely to ‘graduate’ to jail.”

Jordan thanked the members of the Children’s Policy Council — which is made up of court officials, education leaders, health professionals and other members of the community with a stake in area youth — for their commitment to the project.

“We really have a good thing going,” he said.