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Should I try to get my teenager a Juvenile Probation Officer?
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Monday, May 25, 2009

Sometimes parents in group hear other parents talk about how helpful it was to have a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) for their teenager. This post will deal with the pros and cons to having a JPO and also cover the process of how Juvenile Court determines which teenagers to supervise. Also, if a parent decides that it would be a good idea to get a JPO to help supervise thier teenager, it is not necessarily an easy thing to do.

First, we'll cover the process for getting a JPO and we will follow that with the downside and upside of having one for your teenager. Before you decide whether or not to go down this road make sure to read the downside part too.

What is the process to getting your teenager a JPO?
1. There has to be an allegation that your teenager has broken the law in Allegheny County and that this event occurred before your teenager turned 18. Sometimes a parent could file an allegation against a teenager such as Theft, Assault, Terroristic Threats, Possession of Drugs or Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. This is why it is often smart for parents to keep any drugs that they find available so that they can be used to get their teenager a JPO. Keep in mind, your teenager could be charged with any criminal allegation, it's just that the charges just mentioned are the ones that are most often generated by parents.

2. Any criminal allegation can be filed with a Police Officer (if they will accept it) or by a concerned citizen, such as a parent, directly with the Intake Department of Juvenile Probation. For the former, you would call 911 and report the crime. For the latter, you would contact the Intake Department , Allegheny County Juvenile Court, 550 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15219.

Just because an allegation has been filed, that does not mean that Juvenile Court will schedule a hearing. Probation Intake Department can not file every allegation with the Court. Some allegations are "adjusted." That means that it never goes to Court for a hearing; however, even if your allegation against your teenager is adjusted, your teen might have a chance to speak with an Intake Officer from Juvenile Probation. Sometimes they are given a chance to "straighten up or else we'll send this case before the Judge."

Sometimes, there is no contact at all; the District Attorney might just decide that the case has no real merit. If and when this happens to you it is possible that your will feel that you are getting the run-around from the bureaucracy. Keep in mind, however, that Juvenile Court was not set up to address out-of-control teenagers, and while it might be helpful to have a JPO involved with your teenager, it is simply not always possible.

3. A parent of an out-of-control drug abusing teenager can request help from Juvenile Court because of several things happening at once. First, the teenager is breaking the law simply by abusing alcohol or drugs.

Secondly, many parents are actually the victims of crimes committed by their teenagers, such as Theft, Assault, or Terroristic Threats.

And finally, most out-of-control drug abusing teens are presenting some risk to the community at large and community safety is also a responsibility of Juvenile Probation.

Of course, none of these concerns mean very much unless some kind of delinquent (criminal) act can be either proven in a courtroom or at least be potentially proven in a courtroom. The word potential is used here is because it's really the allegation of wrongdoing that gets the ball rolling in Juvenile Court. Somtimes the Court makes a finding of Delinquency and sometimes it is not necessary to prove it and the Court can still offer supervision.

What's the downside of having a JPO?

1. First, we offer no guarantees. Many parents will tell you that having a JPO helped keep their child free from drug abuse until their teen finally pulled out of it. Other parents will tell you that not only did the Court offer little help but that the involvement of the court was counter-productive, e.g., the court placement of their teen only lead to him making further criminal contacts or because he became "institutionalized" by various court placements.

2. Secondly, it could be that your teenager will end up with a criminal record, albeit a Juvenile Criminal Record. Does this always happen? No. But it can happen. Even if your teenager's case is adjudicated, often times today a Judge will issue a Consent Decree. If this happens your teenager has from three months to a year to show that he can follow the rules, quit his abuse of drugs, and basically be a good citizen. If he is successful, he will not have a Juvenile Criminal Record. If he is not successful, he may end up being adjudicated delinquent and then have a Juvenile Criminal Record. How problematic can it be to have a Juvenile Criminal Record and can such a record ever be expunged? It depends on several factors and yes, cases can later be expunged, however, that usually involves hiring an attorney and having them file for Expungement.

There is no way to be assured how problematic it may be to have a Juvenile Court record. The records are not exactly open to the public, however, with a signed release these records can be opened up and examined. Therefore, it could affect your teenager's options later on in life although it would appear that this does not really happen very often. Sometimes, it depends on how serious the record is, e.g., is it a Felony Violation or a Misdemeanor? Keep in mind also that a Juvenile Record is not considered as much of a drawback in hiring as an adult Criminal Record. In fact, some people say that if your are asked by a prospective employer if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and all you have is a Juvenile Record, you can say "no," with the idea being that you have been Adjudicated Delinquent not convicted of a crime. Everyone does not agree with this stance; however it appears to be conventional wisdom.

The reason that some cases don't generate a Delinquent Record and some cases do is a bit confusing. First of all, there is always some kind of a record of what happened; however, there is not always a Court Finding that a teenager has broken the law. This is because some cases remain with the Intake Department for adjustments. In these cases an Intake Officer is acting as a Probation Officer but the case may never see the inside of a courtroom.

Also, even if a case does see the inside of a courtroom, a Consent Decree may be issued. The Judge offers a Consent Decree when he feels that there is proof of criminal behavior but he would like to give the juvenile a chance to complete a period of Court supervision successfully without making a Court Finding of Delinquency, therefore there is no record of Delinquency. Of course, if things don't go well the case comes back into Court and the Judge may issue a Finding of Delinquency the second time around. If things do go well the charges end up being dismissed.

3. Once you have some form of Court Supervision established you loose control over your teenager's case. But remember, this is exactly why ou want a JPO: you can't control your teenager and you need help to control him and keep him safe. Of course, the Court will usually be concerned with a parent's opinion. Parents do not make the final decision regarding Conditions of Supervision or make the decision about out-of-home placement or the use of a specific in-patient drug treatment program.

One parent in Allegheny County, Lori, has written this about placement of her teenage addict into the Abraxas drug treatment program: "There is help out there and The Juvenile Court of Allegheny County is the best-kept secret we have in Western PA." The point being that while you loose some control you gain the possibility of placing your teenager in a safe place isolated from drugs when needed.

4. There are some feel-bad problems with having a Probation Officer for your teenager:

You have to go and get involved in the system to make it work. It's success is not automatic. it can be messy and you may at times be very uncomfortable. You have to go to the court hearings. If your teenager is placed at Shuman Center then he will be brought to court by the Sheriffs in a jump suit and shackles. In Court, you will have to tell the Judge all the bad things that your teen has done, including their drug abuse. And you may be cross-examined by your child's Public Defender or Court Appointed Attorney. You will do this so that you can convince the Judge to help you save your teenager's life; however, your teenager will hear this and he may indeed blame you for putting him in a teenager-jail.

5. If your teenager is placed outside of your home, e.g., in a drug rehab, there are costs involved that the Country will compel you to contribute towards based on your ability to pay. The County considers this child support because you would normally be paying for your child's food and clothing so you should not get a benefit because your child is ill. Sometimes the amount of child support is substantial. There is usually no way to know ahead of time exactly how much the whole cost will be. Based on the experience of some parents in the group, the County treats your portion of the payment as a no interest loan and allows you to pay it back at zero interest over a long period of time. Again, these payback policies can change at any time. It may help to think of it this way, someone has to pay for these expenses and if not you as a parent it will be you as a tax payer.

Addiction is a family disease and you may have to take these steps to help your whole family heal so your child can heal.

6. If your teenager is placed outside of your home he may be exposed and influenced by other criminals and other drug-abusing teenagers. This is unpredictable, but sometimes it may seem like your teenager is being sent to a school to learn how to commit crime or how to improve drug connections. This is one primary reason why Juvenile Probation often works to limit a child's penetration into the Court system; because the Court System itself can sometimes have a negative influence on a teenager.

Now, let's look at the upside of having a JPO.

1. Your teenager will be held accountable for his behavior. Often the consequences are administered quickly and often it is the parent who administers the consequences although things like continued drug abuse and criminal behavior is usually handled by the JPO.

2. Short and long-term inpatient drug treatment is available for your
teenager that would be difficult if not impossible for you to obtain with
your own insurance.
Although as mentioned above, the County may compel you to share in the costs of this treatment based on your income and the normal expenses you would have if your child was not ill.
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3. The possibility exists to place your teenager in a safe place isolated from drugs when needed. Shuman Center can be a scary place but when it is compared to having your teenager out on the streets doing drugs it looks pretty safe.

4. There is often support available for the whole family from other outside agencies once your have a JPO, e.g., Wesley Spectrum In-home Family Services is appreciated by many families and if your teenager has a JPO there is no charge.

5. A JPO can be an advocate that wants the best for your teenager and for your family. A JPO is someone who is on your side who will help you do the right thing for your teenager when you can't.

Now that we have covered the process of attempting to get a JPO and the various pros and cons of having one, here are a couple of final questions to ask yourself before you decide whether or not to pursue this:

1. How desperate are you? Is the issue with your teenager a life or death issue? Are you worried that you will have to attend your child's funeral? Do you worry that your child is going to be hurt? If the answer to that question is yes, then you may want to consider involving your teen in the Court. Better to deal with a possible juvenile court record and exposure to other delinquents than to attend your teenager's funeral and drug abuse is life-threatening.

2. Have you done everything possible without involving the Juvenile Court system? Have you tried Outpatient Counseling? Have you tried to arrange a drug/ alcohol evaluation for your teenager? Perhaps your teenager would cooperate with a therapist and participate in treatment where he would be drug tested regularly.

3. Have you tried ACT 53? Read what other parents have said about Act 53 . This offers a way for parents of teenagers with drug problems to force their teens to accept drug treatment without running the risk of having a Juvenile Criminal Court record. Of course, there are pros and cons of using ACT 53 but it is generally considered a good thing to try BEFORE you attempt to get a JPO for your teenager. Many parents that attend PSST have used Act 53. If you would like more information concerning the ACT 53 law, policies or procedures, please contact the Allegheny County Drug and Alcohol Services Unit at 412-350-3952.

4. Have you attended PSST or other Parent Support Group meetings? If you live in an area where there are PSST meetings (presently, they are all held in Allegheny County) it is good idea to come to one and meet and talk with other parents who have used the Court system. We are lucky to have a core-group of "veteran parents" in Allegheny County who are willing to offer advice and help to parents who are desperate to find some hope for their teenager. If you either can not attend or would like to speak with a parent or Probation Officer, then email us at kene@nauticom.net. There are other Parent Support Groups such as POTADA or parent groups run by All OF US CARE.

5. Are you willing to cooperate with a JPO? This means not keeping secrets and making a full disclosure of all actions by your teenager even when you know that this disclosure might result in immediate sanctions. If you are not willing to make this disclosure then you undermine the job that a JPO can do for your teenager. There are several reasons why this is really important but for now suffice it to say that usually Juvenile Probation does not fix what's wrong with your teenager so much as stand behind you while you provide the fix.

If the answer to any of these questions is "No," then perhaps you should think twice before going down this road. On the other hand, if you know that you have tried everything you can do to address your teenager's drug problem, and things just keep getting worse, then just waiting around for things to get better might be the most dangerous decision you could make.


Anonymous said...

I think this is some really powerful stuff! I think it is a fair representation of how the system works with a spin toward the parents sometimes getting help that they need with their out of control addicts that used to be their children!
I might want to find out how parents can get a new PO if the one that they have is not a good match for them?
I think this site has some really helpful information and I am glad that I was provided the information to access it!

Lloyd Woodward said...

Thanks for a great question and thanks for the feedback about the information in the post.

To answer your question, it's very difficult to get a new PO if the reason for the request is that the parents don't agree with what the JPO is doing. However, Valerie Ketter supervises four specialist JPOs. Sometimes, it is possible to have a case transferred to her unit, not because the parties disagree with the JPO, but because the severity of the teenagers drug problem calls for a specialist.

If Valerie Ketter is familiar with the case (perhaps because the parents attend PSST) she may let the JOP's supervisor know that she will accept the case if it is transferred. Even so, it is usually up to the supervisor of the JPO to decide to either keep the case or transfer it over. Usually, the JOP supervisor is happy to oblige.

The JPOs in the D&A Unit have more expertise in supervising drug addicts and drug abusers and usually work more intensly with the teenager and with the parents. I am one of the four specialists working for Valerie Ketter.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been attending the PSST meetings lately and have found them extremely helpful.
We have a 16 year old son who has been smoking pot and drinking alcohal for approx four years.
After a year of outpatient counseling and after two trips to Allegheny General Hospital we were quite desperate because he was still using and being obnoxious. With the help of our friends at PSST we were making preparations to get him a JPO.
I admire the parents at the PSST meetings who have forced their child into the system. (This act of tough love is tough on the parents as well!) Our son made it easy on us because right before we were ready to force the system on him, he got himself into enough trouble with the law that we were able to use that to get him into the system.
He had always threatened us that he would turn out worse if we institutionalized him. That is a scary thing to hear. Well, he is intitutionalized and has been clean now for 11 days and is starting to look and act like a human being again.
We had a meeting with his social worker last night and he was acting like the son we had before drugs.
It is too soon to tell how he will turn out. But I am seeing good signs. After reading the pros and cons of getting an addict into the system I know that things can backfire and they can have bad infuences while there etc. but I feel the court system was the right thing for us. I am looking forward to working with the JPO when our son is released. I am sure that is when we will need the system the most to keep him in line. Addiction is a nasty beast to fight and I am so grateful to have the systems help.

Lorraine said...

My son is a recovering addict. His drug of choice is heroin. He is now 25 and has done well for the past few years, but has had his moments. Getting an addiction under control is difficult. The best thing I ever did was pester the police until we finally had something that led to his arrest. Then I could get that court order for long term treatment and my son got a JPO, Lloyd. Through the years Lloyd has been invaluable to my son's recovery and I owe him my son's life. Do not protect your kid from the system, embrace it! What it provides is second to none. It is the greatest support system for us parents and your kid's JPO will be both your anchor and rudder. The system also has access to the best drug rehabiliation programs you can find, and Lloyd with his manager, guided my son's treatment. They saved his life. I no longer refer to Lloyd has my son's JPO, he is our PO and a member of the family, even still years later. If you really want to help your kid get control of his addiction and live, get him arrested and get him a JPO!


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