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In The Public Interest: Meet The Director Of The Washtenaw County Children's Services Department

Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County

This week on “In The Public Interest,” our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, WEMU’s Lisa Barry talks with the director of the Washtenaw County Children’s Services Department, Lisa Greco, as we continue our “Get to Know Your County Government" series.

Lisa Greco
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU
89.1 WEMU
Washtenaw County Children's Services Department director Lisa Greco

What is the Youth Center?

  • Responsible for providing temporary custody and care for juveniles in a safe and secure setting while awaiting adjudication.
  • All youth are court involved, placed due to delinquency charges
  • Short stay of approx. 18 days or less in most cases.
  • 2018 had 219 total admissions – all programs

Who do you serve?

  • Boys & girls, mostly boys
  • 11-17 years old
  • Disproportionately African-American
  • Typically have mental health needs, substance abuse issues, come in due to delinquency charges.

What are the circumstances that will result in a child coming to you?

  • Placed by court

Tell us about your facility.

  • New building (2003) on the campus with theSheriff Dept and Court 14A-1 (replacing the old Platt Rd. juvenile facility)
  • 40 beds, purpose-built.  Occupancy averaging about 30. 
  • Co-educational with each young person having their own bedroom. 
  • Meals, classes, recreational time are all together under close supervision.

Who are your staff and what are their skills?

  • Staff ratio is 1:10 or better
  • Staff role is to teach/train; not guards
  • Attendants, counselors (bachelors in a human services field), supervisors/ admin (masters in human services or public admin)
  • Required pre-hire and annual CPS clearances and background checks
  • Required 35+ hours annual training

What services are provided?

  • Medical and dental
  • Psychiatrist
  • Group and individual counseling including suicide screening and crisis intervention
  • Year around accredited school programming thru Washtenaw Intermediate School Dist who coordinate with home school
  • Substance abuse treatment (Growth Works, Inc)
  • Trauma informed care

What happens if the outcome of court proceedings is that the youth should be kept in custody for a period of time?

  • The county purchases (rents?) a bed at an area non-profit that specializes in the care of children from 11-17 years of age. 
  • These custodial facilities specialize in different problems, eg for a girl who has been involved in human trafficking, or a boy who is a sex offender, or a child who is a general delinquent
  • Child Services has 10 beds in a facility to treat substance abuse in partnership with Growth Works in Plymouth.

How many of the youth who come thru Child Services come back (recidivism rate)?

  • In a 12-month period about 1/3 return
  • Over 36 months, about 2/3 return rate.  Of these, about 75% are probation violations

What’s missing in how our community tries to help these kids?

  • Need more and better community-based intervention.
  • Should have a continuum of professional services available to child and family
  • Should have better coordination among the many entities tasked with providing services;  schools, public health, police, courts, non-profits
  • There are 150-200 families in the county who are experiencing intense struggles and need this kind of support – a manageable number for such a wealthy county.

What is being done to improve this?

  • New county mental health millage will provide additional funds
  • Sheriff and Community Mental Health have initiated a Youth Mapping project to identify what is needed and how to incorporate youth into planning for expenditures.

What is Raise the Age legislative initiative?

  • Michigan is one of only four states in the country that still have 17 as the age when an offender is sent into the adult criminal justice system (Texas, Alabama and Wisconsin are the others).
  • Raise the Age is effort since 2015 to get legislation passed in Michigan that would increase the age from 17 to 18.
  • In the meantime, a broad coalition of system stakeholders across Washtenaw County has declared a common value around starting now to divert some 17 year-old offenders who are ordered into secure custody by the Court to be placed in the Washtenaw County Youth Center, instead of in the Washtenaw County Jail.


Washtenaw County Children’s Services

Michigan Juvenile Detention Association

Raise the Age Michigan

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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