Janesville59.2°

Youth group emphasizes preventive measures

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
December 15, 2007
— Helping at-risk youth before they get into trouble is the aim of a new Rock County program.

Kathy Soehnlein, program coordinator of the Rock Communities Youth Network, has seen the kinds of kids who need help.


She gave this fictitious scenario as an example:


A 15-year-old girl is skipping school and getting drunk, so an assistant principal at her school refers the girl and her mother to Rock Communities Youth Network.


The teen and her single mom fill out computerized self-assessments, which reveal that the mother and daughter spend little time together and seldom communicate.


“The teen is on her own a lot because her mom works second shift. The teen doesn’t feel like mom listens,” Soehnlein said of the scenario she concocted.


Mom says her daughter doesn’t follow rules, but mom doesn’t know how to enforce the rules.


The daughter is lonely and feels unheard, attracting her to parties where she feels welcome.


There’s no family in the area to help mom, who throws up her hands.


In such a case, Soehnlein said, she might help find someone to be with the daughter when the mom is at work and suggest the two meet with a counselor.


“The intent is to take youth at risk, identify their issues and what they are then develop a plan to address those issues before they get into the court system,’’ said Gary Smith, a member of the Rock County Juvenile Court Advisory Board.


The youth network is an offshoot of the advisory board.


At-risk youth ages 12 to 19 are eligible for the program. They can be if referred by parents, educators, law enforcement, counselors, pastors, the court system or anyone else concerned for the youth’s well being.


“My role is to make confidential recommendations and follow up in an effort to try and avoid repercussions,” said Soehnlein, who has a master’s degree in social work.


After two years of effort, the program opened in October in Suite 102 of the United Way of North Rock County in downtown Janesville.


Start-up funds came from a local United Way Venture Grant plus the Janesville Morning and Noon Rotary clubs, the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin and Alliant Energy. The board continues its efforts in securing funding for the future.


Community Action is the program’s fiscal agent.


“The goal is to share information with schools, probation, police, church, parents and counselors to put together a package to help the youth,” said Hal Robb, chairman of the network board and a member of the county Juvenile Court Advisory Board.


“We are a private board seeking funds and good (financially) into next year,” Robb said.


PROGRAM NEED

Organizers of the new Rock Communities Youth Network say there’s a need for the program because:


-- Rock County in 2004 had a juvenile arrest rate of 142 arrests per 1,000 youths, the third-highest rate in the state. Wisconsin averages 81 juvenile arrests per 1,000 youths, according to the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance.


-- Minority juveniles accounted for 31 percent of admissions to the Rock County Juvenile Detention Center in 2006, even though minorities make up only 9 percent of county youth age 10 to 17, according to the Rock County Human Services Department.


-- Less than 30 percent of Rock County students surveyed in 2005 reported positive family communication and only 27 percent said they had adult role models, according to Partners in Prevention.


-- Rock County youth in 2004-05 exceeded state and national rates for alcohol use within 30 days, binge drinking and age of first use, according to the National Survey on Drug Use & Health.


FOR HELP
Contact Program Coordinator Kathy Soehnlein by calling (608) 756-0815 or e-mail rc.youth.network@charter.net. The program is housed in Suite 102 of the United Way of North Rock County building, 205 N. Main St., downtown Janesville.

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