The Conway Noon Lions Club has boasted an impressive line-up of speakers for the month of July. Tuesday, the club brought Steve Nawojczyk of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Services.
Nawojczyk has been an authority on gang related issues and other crime themes throughout Arkansas, which led to a documentary produced by HBO.
The show follows Nawojczyk as he uncovers the gangs of Little Rock and finds ways to bring services to the youth who are without a mentor or a positive support group.
"What kids need is a positive influence on their lives, there’s a quote, ‘kids can’t be what they can’t see,"’ said Nawojczyk, "If you’re offering positive things, kids will do those positive things."
Nawojczyk explained that he believes community is everything for children. Some are sent to treatment centers as a result of getting into trouble, but once they are out eight months later, they go right back into the communities that do not foster a positive difference.
"We have some kids that will repeat an offense to stay in the system. This way, they don’t have to go back to their negative circumstances," said Nawojczyk, "These kids come from places where gang violence and shootings are common. We not only have to treat for the offence, but also PTSD."
Nawojczyk continued that the Division of Youth Services works with thirteen contracted providers. These groups provide and maintain residence buildings for youth who in need of treatment.
"I want to point out, we are a treatment, not a correction," Nawojczyk said.
The largest resident building is in Alexander, Ark. This facility has 100 beds and houses the most intense youth.
"These youth are angry and have made horrible mistakes," Nowjczyk said.
Treatment times last between eight and twelve months. In addition to the resident programs, these facilities have been granted the ability to treat youth up to age twenty-one. The treatments teach life skills, offer a community, and shows youth another way of functioning.
Nawojczyk explained that the program is not perfect. The need to treat the community that kids will go back to is paramount. The support experienced in treatment needs to be available in their homes and their local area as well. In response to this need the Department of Youth Services has began an initiative, "100 for 100 for 100, or 100 mentors for 100 clients, for 100 hours. This allows a connection that can continue even after treatment," Nawojczyk said.
Another concern that Nawojczyk wished to address is the distance of some facilities. "If your child is in Alexander and you live in North Arkansas, you may not have the money or time off to visit your child," said Nawojczyk, "We need smaller facilities in more areas to stimulate visitation."
Nawojczyk ended his Noon Lions Club talk with a call to arms. "[We] need good strong men and women in facilities," Nawojczyk said.
The Department of Human Services will host the Arkansas Coalition for Juvenile Justice-Division of Youth Services (ACJJ-DYS) Statewide Juvenile Justice Conference October 28-30. For more information contact Brenda Hatton-Ficklin at Brenda.firstname.lastname@example.org.