KANKAKEE — Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe has seen firsthand how troubled youth end up on the wrong side of the criminal justice system.
Rowe searched for solutions to the problem, and he said there’s a program that can make a difference. He cited the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.
The 1995-97 study was one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being, according to CDC’s website.
“When [youths] experienced certain types of trauma growing up, their brain forms differently than perhaps children who experienced less or no trauma,” Rowe said, noting it differentiated 10 types of trauma.
“So if a child has experienced any of these 10 types of trauma, you get a point for each one,” he said. “So kids with a 5 or a 6, when they did brain scans, their brains were completely different than the others.”
This is the data Rowe cited in his request of the Kankakee County Board’s Executive Committee on Tuesday for preliminary approval of a lease for space to provide mental health services for court-involved youth. The request was unanimously approved. The move paves the way for Riverside Medical Center to pay the county $125 per month for space in a room at the county probation department at 470 E. Merchant St. in Kankakee.
The measure still has to be approved by the full county board at its next meeting on Oct. 12 and by Riverside leadership, which will be providing the program’s counselors.
Rowe said the ACE study found that for children whose brain development was impacted by trauma, they face future impacts on judgment and mental health later in life. This can lead to increased risk factors.
“Young kids with higher ACE scores are more likely to enter the criminal justice system,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to interrupt that behavior and treat that trauma. A lot of kids we see coming into the system are in need of mental health services.”
Rowe said the new proposed program is unique in that it will provide mental health services at the point of entering the criminal justice system.
“This is one of the few models in the country where a court system, a criminal court system, is also providing access to these services,” he said. “And with this partnership with Riverside, we have the opportunity to provide it at virtually no cost to the county.”
Riverside will employ a licensed clinical social worker, provide cognitive behavioral therapy, substance abuse counseling and anger management therapy in this one office.
“That licensed clinical social worker is assigned solely to our county and solely for the kids that come through our system, whether it’s victims or offenders,” Rowe said.
Rowe said the program will be offered five days a week, and the appointments will be tied to their court dates as best as they can.
“This is, of course, a long-term solution,” he said. “It’s not going to show immediate impact. But over time, we’re hoping that if kids are getting those services, or getting the counseling or the psychotherapy that they need, long term we’re going to see them less likely to recidivate back into the system.”
The lease for this pilot project is for one year, and Rowe is hopeful it can be renewed after one year with some positive results. He added the program is a coordinated effort among the prosecutors and public defender’s offices, judges and juvenile probation.
“It could be years before we see those numbers start to go down through this treatment, but it’s important we start investing in that,” he said.
Rowe said he could not give a definitive start date for the program until it gains final approval by both parties.