COLLEGE STATION — Two state agencies have joined forces in a program that may help redirect the lives of young juvenile offenders from across Texas.
The program will use existing 4-H programs as its core but also will involve more strongly the parents of offenders in helping them get on a positive track, a Texas Agricultural Extension Service official says.
The Partnership for Prevention, a joint effort of the Extension Service and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, hit full stride in September with a one-day training meeting in Austin for representatives from both agencies in 44 Texas counties.
“What we’ve known is that kids involved in positive activities are less inclined to get involved in negative activities,” said Dr. Sarah Anderson, Extension program leader for the family development and resource management. “That’s wonderful, but that’s also only half of the equation. Getting parents involved is also a key to the program.”
The program started after the commission indicated its interest in working more closely with established Extension programs to reach youth. That eventually resulted in the commission’s funding of a grant for the Partnership for Prevention, a three-year effort.
“One of our commission colleagues has said that she’s never known a 4-H member to get into any real trouble,” said Anderson.
The effort combines established programs for both youth and parents. When the commission determines a young person can benefit, the youth is encouraged to become involved in various activities through 4-H. Activities could range from life skills courses to crafts to raising animals.
Parents, meanwhile, can take part in parenting-skills programs that are used throughout the United States, including the commercially- available programs STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and Common Sense Parenting.
Both those programs include manuals, workbooks and videos, among other materials. They teach four fundamental skills of parenting, Anderson said — knowledge of child development, guidance and discipline, communication, and self esteem.
“With children, the focus is on developing life skills such as making decisions, solving problems, and working effectively within groups,” Anderson said.
Anderson said parents of other 4-H participants need not fear that their children are in an undesirable situation when offenders get involved in 4-H.
“These are young people from 10 to 14 who are what the commission classifies as class I or II offenders,” Anderson said. “Many of them are referred to the commission because of minor offenses that in previous years might have been referred only to parents.”
“There won’t be any referral of offenders with more critical offenses, such as those involving serious drugs or violence.”
In larger, more urban areas, many of the juvenile offenders will be able to take part in special 4-H groups that will be somewhat separate from regular groups, Anderson added.
In rural areas, where 4-H groups are smaller or less numerous, social ties are tighter and parents probably already will be aware of who young offenders are and what they have done, Anderson said. She thinks parents’ fears about mixing juvenile offenders with other children will not be great because of those stronger community relationships.
Angela McCorkle, Extension assistant for adolescent wellness, heads day-to-day operations for the partnership. A Nebraska native and former Kansas Extension agent, she says both Extension personnel and probation officials across the state are looking forward to the program.
“For many of them, it’s a new link they can use,” McCorkle said. “Probation officers, especially in a lot of the smaller counties, are looking for programs that can help their youth.
“And for Extension agents who have already been using these materials and programs, there is a lot of excitement about being able to expand their program bases and meet the needs that are out there.”