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The population and caseload of most Sutter County social service agencies, juvenile courts, law enforcement agencies and schools have changed dramatically during the last decade. Both the behavior and attitude of youth involved in the dependency and wardship process has become far more complex. Local schools are increasingly involved in student and family problems that impact all elements of our community. More serious and violent criminal activity as well as escalating substance abuse presented by both children and members of their family demonstrates this complexity. In addition increasingly serious emotional and physical health problems of children and families are being identified.

In 1998, Sutter County officials, aware of the devastating ramifications of substance abuse, violence and poor health reflected in the lives of the youth now being seen in our various service systems, began a rethinking of approaches to assisting youth in our community to become competent capable adults.

This rethinking process resulted in the following conclusions:

  • Reunification of families and youth following out of home placements routinely resulted in return to custody for the youth.
  • The problems of youth are interrelated with those of his/her parents;
  • Earlier and much more comprehensive “intake” assessments are necessary;
  • Much greater focus should be placed on the functioning of the child’s family;
  • Closer integration of the information related to the child and his/her family is needed;
  • Greater coordination between agencies providing services to the child and family is required;
  • More active and continuous judicial supervision of dependent and delinquent cases, with sanctions applied immediately for noncompliance or rewards for compliance with court conditions by the child or family is essential.
  • Marriage dissolution proceedings with significant conflict between the parents have a strong correlation with juvenile delinquency and school failure
  • Connection between the Juvenile and Family Courts is necessary to fully assist families.

In order to better impact the youth and families receiving services in Sutter County a Policy Group comprised of leaders of law enforcement, public agencies, education, and the courts began to evaluate current services available in our community as well as the demand for those services. During this assessment process it was a consensus of the group that the judiciary must take a lead role in monitoring and managing the treatment and rehabilitation process for children appearing before the court. It was also agreed the earlier the court intervened, the better. In this regard Sutter County benefited from having a single judge who presides over Juvenile and Family Court Matters.

Discussions of the Policy Group identified early and extensive assessment of the youth and his/her family as being a critical aspect for success. It was also agreed that the assessment and treatment process have an “outreach” component and include home visits, either by service staff or law enforcement. All involved with the process agreed that it is important to look for indicators of problems not simply overt signs. Truancy, fighting, lack of basic educational and other skills, involvement in domestic violence, lack of employment, prior criminal histories of parents and/or siblings, are cited as examples of such indicators.

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