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Changing the Approach to Keep Virginia’s Kids Out of Trouble

PHOTO: Efforts are underway in Virginia Beach to improve outcomes for youth in trouble. Photo of Olymphia Perkins Director 2nd District Court Service Unit.2nd District Court Service Unit.
PHOTO: Efforts are underway in Virginia Beach to improve outcomes for youth in trouble. Photo of Olymphia Perkins Director 2nd District Court Service Unit.
2nd District Court Service Unit.
December 30, 2013

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A community in Virginia is changing its approach to juvenile justice to help youth offenders stay out of trouble. Olymphia Perkins directs the 2nd District Court Service Unit in Virginia Beach. She said the staff has been trained in leadership strategies from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and they are now better focused on the needs of children and families.

Better agency communication, collaboration and clearly defined expectations are helping workers provide the best possible outcomes for youth, she explained.

"Results-based accountability. That's one of the things we use here in Virginia Beach to help us stay focused. I mean, it's all about the results: Are we actually accomplishing what we are setting out to do?," Perkins said.

The staff has been trained to teach clients skills to help reduce recidivism, she noted. In 2009, Virginia Beach had the longest lengths of stay in juvenile detention in the state, but since implementing new strategies, between 2008 and 2012 lengths of detention went down by 13 percent.

Perkins said they assess the risk factors that contribute to criminal behavior and then teach problem-solving, decision-making and refusal skills that help kids avoid bad situations.

"One of the things we do is try to teach them how to say no, so we teach them other skills about decision making. We have them look at their goals and whether or not the behaviors they are exhibiting actually are helping them achieve their goals or are keeping them from those goals," she said.

They are leveling the playing field by screening all youth equally during the intake process, she said, and they have seen the time it takes for youth to get their day in court drop from 3 months to 2 weeks.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - VA