Juvenile court gets grant for family therapy program

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Coweta County Juvenile Court has been awarded $150,000 from the state of Georgia to go toward exploring new and innovative ways of dealing with juvenile offenders.

The $150,000 is part of $5 million Georgia is giving to help local juvenile systems. The funding is in light of the "juvenile justice reform" laws that take effect on Jan. 1.

The money will be used to implement a "Functional Family Therapy" program.

Functional Family Therapy is an "evidence- based program that works not just with the child, but with his or her family as well," said Coweta Juvenile Court Judge Joe Wyant.

"We've found that most, if not all, kids who find themselves in our court for more serious offenses, also have problems at home,” Wyant said. “Either the parent is absent physically or emotionally, or acts as an enabler of the child’s behavior.” Without a proper foundation, “it’s not surprising we have kids behaving badly,” Wyant said. “This program tries to fix that, with an eye toward preventing recidivism.”

“This grant will allow us to offer intensive family intervention to a number of youth that otherwise might be committed to a secure institution,” Wyant said.

“My staff has been working very hard on securing the resources we need for these programs, and their efforts have really paid off.”

Lisa Barton, interim department head and intake officer at Coweta Juvenile Court, said the money will probably provide FFT for 29 or 30 families over the next year, and that should cover most of the kids who need it. “Of course we may see more that need it and we’ll certainly try to get them in,” she said.

FFT can be an expensive proposition because it is very intensive, and the counselors go into the home and work with the entire family.

“A lot of times we find there is stuff going on in the family and everybody needs the services,” Barton said. “There could be external issues that have nothing to do with the parent’s parenting skills. It could be a death in the family, or an extenuating circumstance that may turn the whole family upside down and they don’t know how to get back on track.”

Plans are to have 10 families ready to begin the program in October, Barton said.

“We’re very, very excited. I think we are very fortunate to have gotten the $150,000,” she said. “We are ready to get everything up and going to see the results. We are really excited about the new direction the juvenile court is going in.” Coweta Juvenile Court applied for $263,000 originally, but only got $150,000.

The other money would have been to implement the “Thinking for a Change” counseling program.

Since they didn’t receive enough money for both, “we felt like the kids in the community and their families would be better served with the FFT because it is so much more intensive and it provides services not just to the child but to the entire family,” Barton said.

They’re not giving up on Thinking for a Change, though. “We’re still trying to figure out how to get it done without any cost to the county,” Wyant said.

“Essentially, we take low-risk kids and teach them how to make better choices,” he said.

And then there’s next year.

“I think doing the FFT and how that goes in the next year is going to determine what we are able to do in the future,” Barton said.

Coweta Juvenile Court is also looking into art and music therapy.

Wyant said they are talking with Don Nixon at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts, and Carol Toole, an art teacher at Newnan High School, “about art therapy for those low-risk kids that express an interest in the arts, whether it be drawing or set design.”

“We believe keeping kids busy and engaged is the best way to help those who have behaved badly in one or two circumstances from repeating those bad behaviors,” he said.

Barton said there is also a program called “Guitars Not Guns,” which teaches at-risk kids how to play guitar that she’d like to investigate.

“You don’t ever know what is going to work” with children and teens who are acting out, “so you try every avenue possible to get rid of the anger, whether it be through music or art or counseling or therapy,” Barton said.

“If we can get them to open up and discuss what is going on, that is what want to do.”

“We are trying all different things this year” as they negotiate the changes coming through the juvenile justice reform, Barton said.



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