CLOUD program offers help for troubled youths

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In today’s society, it’s easy for children to access alcohol, drugs and tobacco, but what do we do to keep those vices from taking hold of their lives?

In Escambia County, one solution is the newly established “CLOUD” program.

The CLOUD program — which stands for choosing life over using drugs — was named by Escambia County High School junior Raven Lewis.

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“In the juvenile system, we are given two tools when a child is brought before our court — probation or sending them to the department of youth services,” said Circuit Judge Dave Jordan, who is also the Children’s Policy Council chairman. “When we saw that things weren’t getting better, we knew we needed to seize control of intervention of juvenile persons and their families in Escambia County.

“Every time a child stands in front of the court, there is an underlying reason on how and why they arrived there,” Jordan said. “In working with high risk youth, it’s not good enough to shift that responsibility to DYS because the majority of those youth are going to offend again — some 75 percent.

“With this program, what we aim to do is focus on the individual with more intensive intervention,” he said.

Jordan used the story of a 13-year-old who was caught smoking marijuana at school to illustrate how the CLOUD program aims to help break the circle of drug abuse.

“It is apparent that child — and others too — have a myriad of problems,” he said. “It could be abuse driven; he could be neglected by his parents or be witnessing that destructive behavior at home.

“This program allows us to get to the root and change things by examining the whole family,” he said. “There is no magic bullet, but this program is something we can add to our tool belt.”

Karean Reynolds serves as a program coordinator and works one-on-one with families in Atmore, while Jennifer Blount works with families in Brewton.

Statistics show that 90 percent of the children in the county’s juvenile probation program are exposed to drugs, Reynolds said.

Modeled after a similar program in Baldwin County, the local program utilizes a five-week education intensive curriculum on the risk of drug use. Clients are referred to the program through a partnership with the county’s school systems.

“For example, if they get caught at school with some kind of drug, which includes alcohol and tobacco — they are referred to our program,” Reynolds said.

Participants are shown videos of “real word experiences” from a teen’s perspective. Subjects include “every drug you can think of,” Reynolds said.

Classes — which will feature 10 clients from Brewton and Atmore each — are full for February; however, a new session will begin as soon as the first ends. Parents and guardians are required to come to the first and last session.

“We know this program won’t fix the juvenile drug abuse problem in this county; it’s designed to educate,” Reynolds said. “But we have a responsibility to do what we can to change things.”

Brewton Standard publisher Stephanie Nelson wrote this story.