Funding available to help at-risk youth in Wake County: 'It's vitally important'

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Saturday, December 17, 2022
Funding available to help at-risk youth in Wake County
Wake JCPC Chair Sharif Deveaux said it's the community programs, not the courts, who actually do the work of helping kids stay out of the juvenile delinquency system.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly $2 million in state funds is available to help local programs that work with at-risk youth in Wake County, according to an announcement on Thursday.

Wake JCPC Chair Sharif Deveaux said it's the community programs, not the courts, who actually do the work of helping kids stay out of the juvenile delinquency system.

"It's vitally important," Deveaux said. "What people don't understand about the juvenile delinquency system is that the courts do very little, the courts are just a coercive body to try to force parents and juveniles to participate in programs and utilize services to help them deal with some of the underlying issues that may lead to delinquency."

For Deveaux, the juvenile justice statistics in Wake County speak for itself.

"There's increase in the number of youth who have mental health, or behavioral health diagnoses, but aren't receiving services," Deveaux said. "There's a significant number of juveniles, kids in the community who have substance use issues ... there's disparities and the number of kids who are suspended from schools ... even referred to juvenile justice for school based offenses."

Deveaux said there was roughly 1,903 juvenile complaints in 2021 and roughly 1,839 total complaints sent to juvenile justice in 2020.

"The numbers aren't that much different ... however, it is a continuing and ongoing need for the community to be able to provide services to juveniles and their parents so that we don't see those numbers explode," Deveaux said. "Historically, the majority of the juvenile offenses are misdemeanors. We don't want to get to the point where we're seeing that the majority of those offenses are felonies, we haven't gotten there yet."

With rising costs and increased needs in the community, funding is essential for organizations like Haven House, whose services include youth that are homeless.

"What we see is families that don't know what to do and are in crisis and need help immediately," chief executive officer Michelle Zechmann said. "So that's where we try to come in as we have a shelter for you."

Zechmann said it's really important to make sure that their organization is able to sustain and support youth that are having difficulty in the community.

"Youth that are at risk for involvement in the court system, youth that are already involved in the court system, trying to really help make sure that they stay on the right path," she added.

For Ares Epps, a former foster youth, there were times when he felt alone.

"These kids are going through a lot in terms of having their hardships," Epps said. "Being shipped away and being placed inside a home that they don't know anything about or the individual, it's a shock to the body and a shock to themselves, so it's like they're trying to adjust and trying to cope with everything."

Georgetown Law reports children in foster care are much more likely than their peers to become involved in the criminal justice system. But not all children are destined for that future, according to Epps.

"I was put in a situation in order for me to survive. Although my actions have been bad they don't know the full story. I feel like when it comes to foster youth and foster kids, individuals shouldn't be quick to judge people," Epps said. "If any kid who's in the foster care system has someone who can vouch for them, encourage them, support them, I feel like they'd be set."

Epps, who's graduating from NC State in the fall, said he's passionate about foster care and giving back to organizations like the Hope Center at Pullen.

"I found something that I enjoyed," Epps said. "I was positive, I had people around me that were supportive and encouraging me, and I feel like that makes a huge difference. A family never ends, therefore the people that you surround yourself who are close to you, they don't end because they are always going to be by your side."