Editor’s note: The Log Cabin Democrat is taking a deeper look at Faulkner County’s juvenile court system, its successes with the risk assessment tool now mandated across the state, Act 152 on juvenile justice reform and other related topics. This is the sixth story in the series.

Since the beginning of May, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Youth Services (DYS) has shifted past juvenile detention protocols to instead feature personalized treatment plans.

As more than 30 of the state’s newest juvenile probation officers traveled to the Arkansas Supreme Court building for a week-long training course earlier this month, DYS representatives briefed the JPOs on how the tailored programs will impact youth sentenced to serve time at the center.

DYS has five treatment facilities across the state, and each is now focusing on the juveniles’ behavioral health needs and providing specialized treatment.

DYS Director Michael Crump earlier this year said the shift is “a turning point” for juvenile detention. The changes coincide with Act 152, which focuses on improving the laws of young offenders by utilizing “validated risk assessment tools” and providing a variety of options tailored to each juvenile’s specific needs to combat recidivism and build resources for the state’s at-risk youth.

Changes at DYS went into effect May 1.

“A lot of kids historically going to DYS are not violent,” Brooke Digby, the state’s juvenile ombudsman, said Aug. 2. “That’s why we’re changing things up.”

Previously, juveniles committed to DYS would meet with their case coordinator, after-care provider and probation officer to begin creating a treatment plan over the phone. DYS Assistant Director of Treatment Cheryl Grappe said that assessment now begins immediately.

The center brings together a nurse, education specialist, behavioral health representative, independent living specialist and the individual’s probation officer to discuss the juvenile’s needs upon intake, she said.

“It’s very important to have the JPO on file,” Grappe said, adding that often the teen’s probation officer is able to provide critical information. “Often times, the JPOs know more about the juvenile than we do [because] all we see is the charges.”

Juveniles who only show a need for substance abuse treatment are able to receive care through Quapaw House, Inc., which features a group-home setting and focuses on substance-abuse rehabilitation and is also a behavioral health facility.

Digby reminded the state’s latest cluster of juvenile probation officers only to seek a DYS sentence as a “last resort” option.

While the center has taken significant strides to better serve juvenile offenders, detention takes a toll on youth, she said.

A juvenile offender’s length of stay historically:

Increases recidivism. Increases the individuals chance of re-offending. Negatively impacts mental health.

However, she said the recent shift the program has taken likely will make a significant difference in the lives of the juveniles the department serves.

DYS representatives work with juvenile offenders sentenced to the center to create a series of goals to improve the individuals' communication skills and vocational opportunities.

DYS also works to create “solid, robust diversion programs” while improving the preventative services it offers and avenues to continue care, Digby said.

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net.