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|September 26, 2011
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Probation and the Schools Working Together
*School and student enrollment information provided by the state
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
As teachers, administrators and students statewide settle into the 2011-2012 academic year, Juvenile Court Probation Officers across the Commonwealth can be found in the schools where they work with troubled and court-involved children as well as participate in prevention efforts to support minors and families at risk.
Juvenile Court Probation Officers from across the state are among the staff, court-involved children encounter during the school year. In addition to visiting the children's homes, Probation Officers may be found checking in with school administrators on a child's behavior and progress in school. The Commonwealth's 175 Juvenile Court Probation Officers also collaborate with the court liaison at the schools.
In Massachusetts, there are 955,563 students enrolled in the 1,824 public or charter schools statewide. Approximately 13,822 children are on probation or court-involved. Being court-involved may mean a student is classified as a Delinquent - a child between the ages of seven and 17 who has violated the law; Child In Need of Services (CHINS) - one who is truant, a runaway, stubborn child, and or habitual school offender - and or a Care and Protection case - a child who is the subject of a Care and Protection petition when abuse or neglect is alleged.
Probation Officers believe they can get a better understanding of the needs of the court-involved child in their school setting, provide them with important resources, and work with them to change the behavior that resulted in them becoming court-involved. The Probation Officers also work with the children and partner with the schools to enforce compliance with school attendance laws as well as address any barriers to a child's academic success.
"We communicate with the schools on a daily basis during the school year and if they are having any issues with children on CHINS or probation, we intervene with the child and family," said Barnstable County Juvenile Court Chief Probation Officer John Millett.
Millett said all nine of his Probation Officers visit the 40 school districts in Barnstable and Plymouth counties as well as the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Falmouth High School Assistant Principal Jackie Underdue said the partnership between probation and schools benefits the students and their families.
"We really do appreciate the chance for the Probation Officers to meet with students and find it very helpful. It shows that we are all on the same page and this seems to really matter to the children as well," Mrs. Underdue said.
Lawrence Middle School Principal said of the partnership with Probation, "The Lawrence School continues to have a collaborative working relationship with the Probation Officers at the Falmouth Juvenile Court. The involvement of this office with school personnel has greatly enhanced the community services we are able to access for our students and their families. The strong investment demonstrated by the Falmouth Juvenile Court is indicative of their commitment to the children and families of Falmouth."
Suffolk County Juvenile Probation Officers check on students in the 143 Boston Public Schools and the school districts of Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.
Steven Siciliano, Suffolk County Juvenile Court Chief Probation Officer, said visiting the schools puts Probation Officers in touch with the professionals who deal with troubled students on a daily basis.
"The children are committing offenses that are of a more violent nature," Siciliano said. "Having Probation Officers in the school setting is essential to addressing behavioral and truancy issues."
Phil Jackson, Director of Alternative Education for the Boston Public Schools, said both the schools and children who are court-involved or on probation benefit from Probation Officers' visits to the schools.
"Probation Officers are welcomed with open arms for their expertise and connection with children who are court-involved," said Jackson.
In Berkshire County, Probation Officers are in the schools daily, according to Berkshire County Juvenile Court Chief Probation Officer William Gale.
"We communicate with the schools on a daily basis during the school year and if they are having any issues with kids on CHINS or probation, we intervene with the child and family," Gale said. "It is critical that we have Probation Officers in the schools. When Probation Officers are in the schools, children understand that we are checking on them and their progress and it underscores the importance of staying in school."
Gale said Probation Officers typically meet with six to eight court-involved children face-to-face each day in the 13 school districts.
Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan commented on the relationship between the North Adams-based school and probation, "Probation Officers provide a critical layer of support for students, families and schools alike. The exchange of information between families, probation, school officials and school services is essential to support and sustain student achievement and personal growth."
Principal Meehan added, "Drury High School is fortunate to partner with probation officers as a conduit or pipeline to ensure that young adults are getting access to a variety of resources, programs and proactive interventions - such as after-school programming, summer learning academies, credit recovery options and/or the playwright mentoring project. This collaborative approach has truly changed the lives of many students and afforded them the opportunity to get back on track. I've seen it in action over time and watched those students receive their diplomas at graduation."
Middlesex County Juvenile Chief Probation Officer Stephen Allsopp said his Probation Officers are at the school campuses to make sure court-involved children are attending school. The Probation Officers can be found in the cafeteria and after school to make sure that they go home or to after-school activities.
"My Probation Officers go to the school campuses to discourage the children from hanging out in the local deli or coffee shop instead of going to classes. They (Probation Officers) do cafeteria duty and are in the school yard to make sure the kids go directly home and are not looking for trouble," Allsopp said.
John Silva, Director of Security and Safety for the Cambridge Public Schools, commended the Probation Officer who works closely with him and other staff in the Cambridge Public Schools.
"We are fortunate to have the Probation Officer we have. He is a professional who truly cares and gets satisfaction from working with children. He is an invaluable resource and unyielding in his support. His ability to get children to school and on time is remarkable," said Silva. "In many cases he represents the stern father figure often missing from the picture. Children also learn a lot from the experience. We need a full repertoire of measures to deal with the complicated issues children face."
In Essex County, 24 Probation Officers visit the 36 school districts on a regular basis said Chief Probation Officer Daniel Passacantilli.
"Our mere presence in the schools sends a message to court-involved students and those who are not court-involved that probation means something. We hold them responsible for their actions," Passacantilli said. "If they are on probation, they have to follow the rules and the terms of their probation."
Richard Iarrobino, Lynn Public Schools Supervisor of Attendance and Discipline, described the role of Probation Officers in the school as "invaluable."
"We have a large population of children involved with CHINS and delinquencies. Probation Officers see these children on a daily basis to address their needs. This is for the betterment of the students which leads to the improvement of behavior," said Iarrobino.
Norfolk County Juvenile Chief Probation Officer Thomas Mitchell said having Probation Officers in the schools is at the "top of the list" in the supervision of court-involved children. His eight Probation Officers visit schools in the 45-50 school districts in the court's jurisdiction on a weekly basis.
"We know that school problems for juveniles is the greatest indicator of future crime and delinquency so we make it a priority to have a constant presence in our schools. The Probation Officers are on a first name basis with the school personnel in the 27 towns in our jurisdiction. The staff is provided with office space so we are often in the building when trouble occurs. We collaborate very effectively to hold kids accountable for their behavior," Mitchell said.
Mitchell added, "If we get to the children early, we have a better chance of straightening things out."
Plymouth County Juvenile Court Probation Officers visit each of the 112 schools in the county regularly, according to Chief Probation Officer Joel West.
"Most of the juveniles who are involved in our court are students. Having Probation Officers in the schools where these individuals are daily makes a lot of sense. The presence of a Probation Officer in the school setting has resulted in many situations being diverted from the Juvenile Court because of the interventions made by our staff at the schools," said West. "The familiarity of the school staff with the Probation staff has allowed for problems to be addressed by the school/probation partnership."
Daniel Genatossio, Chief Supervisor of Attendance for the Brockton Public Schools, said working together with Probation has proved to be effective in addressing truancy.
"The goal is to make sure that parents understand the importance of sending their children to school as mandated by state law. It is also important for parents to know other agencies will get involved if the parents do not abide by the law. Probation has been very helpful with explaining the repercussions and putting families in touch with community resources to address the needs of students and their parents," said Genatossio.
Franklin/Hampshire County Juvenile Court Chief Probation Officer Peter Kotch said all of his Probation Officers and two Assistant Chief Probation Officers routinely visit the schools where there is dedicated office space for meetings between Probation Officers and court-involved children and their families.
"I think it is very advantageous to have that open rapport with the schools and the Probation Department," Kotch said.
Hampden County Juvenile Court Probation Officers partner with the Springfield Police Department's Support Officers or a detective from the Police Department's Youth Aid Bureau on to visit the schools, according to Acting Chief Probation Officer Danny Baez and First Assistant Chief Probation Officer Joseph Liberti.
"It has been one of our roles for many years to provide a safety net to our children in school as well as to make them accountable for their behavior and education," said Baez. "These visits to the schools provide valuable information to the PO's which helps them to better address the children's needs."
All 19 of the Bristol County Juvenile Court Probation Officers visit the schools in the 21 cities and towns that comprise the county each week, according to Acting Chief Probation Officer Kevin Martin.
"We try to find out what is going on and assist the child in problem solving difficult situations they face," Martin said. "We attempt to address the situation before it rises to the level of the courts. Our attempts have been very successful."
Martin said Probation Officers conduct a monthly evaluation of each of the court-involved youth to check on their progress. "Most of the time they are doing very well."
In Worcester County, the 25 Worcester County Juvenile Probation Officers visit schools in the district which is comprised of 62 cities and towns.
"The Probation Officers verify that the kids are attending schools. Our court makes all attempts to keep the doors of communication open. Probation Officers' frequent visits to the schools can be very helpful. We want to make sure that Probation Officers are part of the solution and are problem-solvers. It also helps the school administrators to understand the juvenile justice process," said Chief Probation Officer Francyne Lefemine.
Judy Thompson, Worcester Public Schools Coordinator of Counseling, Psychology, and Community Outreach Programs, said, "The working partnerships that our School Adjustment Counselors and administrators have developed with Worcester County Juvenile Probation Officers has been very effective in assisting us with diverting students from formal court involvement and providing coordinated guidance and monitoring for those who are already on probation."