ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The jail door once closed on a female juvenile offender in the Marion County jail-a jail filled with adults.
“It’s a memory I don’t like to think about,” said Loretta Klose, Marion County juvenile intake officer.
But the simple act of closing that door has opened the door for countless other offenders who do not have to be incarcerated with adults. Now, juveniles taken in by law enforcement have a safe place to go.
Three years ago, that vivid memory prompted Klose to accept three positions working with juvenile offenders: juvenile intake officer, Marion County Attendant Care Coordinator and case manager for Family Resource Services.
In these roles, Klose works to make sure there is an alternative place to take children 18 and under picked up by law enforcement. She also follows up on the children and their families.
“I’m a mother and a grandmother, and if I can help just one child, it’s what I want to do,” Klose said.
In an office located in a building south of the Marion County Courthouse, Klose works under Kansas Children’s Service League and Marion County.
She is the first contact after a juvenile is picked up by law enforcement.
“Anytime a juvenile is arrested by law enforcement, it’s mandatory they have to take him to juvenile intake, which is what this office is,” Klose said.
“But I want to make sure that everybody knows that just because a child comes in here for juvenile assessment does not mean that they have a criminal record.”
An assessment is taken in her office using the following information-gathering tools:
Questionnaire-a 20-page questionnaire is completed by Klose to determine identifying information on the juvenile and the family;
POSIT-Problem Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers is an eight-page form of 139 questions asking the juvenile to answer yes or no to an assessment profile;
Scoring-answers are scored using the computer to indicate if there are any problems in 10 different areas;
Criteria for Detention-an assessment sheet is used to determine if the offender meets criteria for detention.
If offenders meet one or more of the criteria for detention, they will be sent to the detention center in Junction City.
“Now that detention is the North Central Kansas Regional Detention Center, and that is for juveniles only,” Klose said.
“If (a juvenile offender) was out of control, wouldn’t cooperate and we found he was going to run again, then I could send him.”
Once a juvenile is placed in Junction City, Klose’s report is sent to Susan Robson, county attorney.
“And she takes the ball from there as to how long they stay in, and once they’re in detention, they have to go before the court.”
But, those juveniles who are runaways or commit such crimes as theft do not meet the criteria for detention.
If the child in such situations can not be immediately returned to his home, Klose now has options that do not include an overnight stay in the adult jail.
“There are group homes in Junction City I can send him to, but that means pulling an officer off the street to transport him up there.
“So recently we developed another option-Marion County Attendant Care.”
Attendant Care is a local facility in Marion in an undisclosed location. The facility includes a futon and a single bed and is set up for a maximum 24-hour stay.
As coordinator, Klose must arrange to have a volunteer staff member stay with the juvenile in the home.
“They’re really not volunteers because they’re paid $6 an hour which is almost volunteer,” she said.
Volunteers are not allowed to stay longer than eight hours at a time, and males attend males and females take care of females.
The facility is licensed for one juvenile, but Klose said if she has a brother and sister in need of shelter, she can make an exception.
After an overnight stay in the safe home, the juvenile will often be monitored by Klose because critical issues of conflict that contributed to the arrest may still exist and/or the child may have to appear before the court system at a future date.
“So that’s when my third position comes in as a case manager for Family Resource Services.”
If children cannot be released back to the home, Social Rehabilitation Services will be called to find placement for them. But if juveniles are released to their family, Klose will meet with them prior to the release and offer her services as a case manager.
They don’t have to take my services-they’re absolutely voluntary, and they’re free,” Klose said.
About once a week, Klose will meet with the family and the juvenile for a maximum of 30 days to work with issues that are a problem in the home.
Working with juveniles in three different capacities, Klose’s case load and hours can vary considerably.
“What they like for me to do is handle six cases…a month because we do stay open for 30 days. And some months I only have two cases and some I’ll have 12.”
And her work hours can vary from 14 hours one day to a two-hour day the next. But her general intake hours are on call 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.
As case manager, Klose can offer the following services:
provide support for the family;
arrange for referrals to other agencies;
appear in court if needed;
help with financial concerns;
provide situational counseling;
address health-care needs;
assist with educational concerns.
To get an idea of what problems a child is having, Klose said she often asks a juvenile offender, “If you woke up tomorrow morning, and everything was perfect in your world, what would change?”
She added, “A lot of times the answer is, ‘I wouldn’t go to school.'”
If grades are a problem, Klose tries to work with the school and the parents to arrange for tutoring.
“If there’s lack of communication in the home, I can do some mediation, and we have some communication tools to get some communication going in the home,” she said.
The most frequent problems coming through her juvenile-intake office are minor consumption of alcohol, possession of marijuana and criminal damage to property, Klose said.
And how does Marion County compare with other counties of equal size?
“I know as far as coming through juvenile intake, we are consistently higher-not a lot-than Morris County,” Klose said. “And Morris is comparable to us in size and population.”
Although no studies have been done, Klose said she does feel because Marion is more of a retirement-oriented community, there are less opportunities for youth activities. And this may contribute to children getting “into situations they shouldn’t be in,” she said.
“You hate to blame it on ‘nothing to do’ all the time, but I do think that’s a factor.
“And another thing, everybody’s so busy, everybody has to work at least one job, and it’s hard (for parents) to keep track of kids. And it’s very important to know where your kids are and what they’re doing at all times.”
Marion County has a lot of juvenile resources to help these kids, Klose said.
“Even people in Junction City have marveled at how many resources we have to help troubled kids, which is wonderful, but I would like to see us have some more entertainment here.”
A movie house and a skating rink are at the top of Klose’s list of entertainment options she would like to see locally.
“And I think we’re understanding that we do need to be involved as a community to help raise a child,” she said.
One single mother with two children spoke annonymously about her experience with Family Services.
Klose was able to work with this mother and her 14-year-old son about a month ago.
“She helped me through the court proceedings I was going through, and I felt we got accomplished on my first son what needed to be done,” the mother said.
“She answered questions that I wouldn’t have known what was going on, and moral support is what she really gives, too.”
Klose has a pager number, 620-382-5057, but said many families aren’t in a position to make long-distance calls. People can also reach her by asking for Marion County services at 888-788-5889, ext.10, which is a toll-free number.
“I think (people) need to understand that we’re here to empower the family to make positive changes, to monitor their progress, and we’re not here to give a hand out but a hand up,” Klose said.
“But we’re not miracle workers. What we try to do is help the family help themselves-give them the tools they need to solve their own problems with what resources are available.”