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Your Opinion: Protect children from juvenile office

Your Opinion: Protect children from juvenile office

January 21st, 2013 by Rick Branstetter, Jefferson City in News

Dear Editor:

Question: What is the difference between a pit bull and the juvenile office?

Answer: You can get a pit bull to let go of a child.

I volunteered to be in the first class of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA). As a former foster parent I initially wondered why there needed to be another person speaking up for children who are in the juvenile court system. After having served as a volunteer for two years, I realized why CASA volunteers are needed. The problem is the juvenile office. The juvenile office management bullies the children and parents who get entrapped by the juvenile office.

You may ask, "What about the lawyers who are assigned to represent the children and the parents?" The problem with the system is that the juvenile office management assigns the lawyers and pays them. Any lawyer who opposes the juvenile office management receives fewer children to serve. (Therefore, the juvenile office also bullies the lawyers who work in the juvenile court process.)

The social workers from the Children's Division work tirelessly to provide services for the children, but often their recommendations to have an "urgency to place' the child into a permanent setting is overridden by the juvenile office management. (Social workers are bullied by the juvenile office management.)

There any many good deputy juvenile officers who are assigned to the children. They work closely with the Family Support Team to reach a consensus for the next steps that are in the best interest of the child.

However, if the deputy juvenile officers support the next steps that the Family Support Team reached, and the juvenile office management disagree with the team, then the juvenile office management will quickly reassign the deputy to other cases. (They bully their own workers.)

How can children, often through no fault of their own, be effectively served by a system that is administered by one person?

What can you do? Be an advocate for these children. Currently only 10 percent of the children in the custody of the juvenile office have a CASA volunteer. If every child in Cole County was represented by a CASA volunteer there would be more voices to state what is in the best interest of the children. The judge and juvenile office management would have to listen and be less intimidating to these frightened children and their parents.