The D.C. government, acknowledging that many troubled young people "fall between the cracks" of the city's juvenile justice and social service programs, yesterday launched an 18-month pilot project to provide a wide range of help to 60 delinquent or neglected children.
"We're the first to admit there has been a lack of coordination in some instances," said Mayor Marion Barry, announcing the project with City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3). "There have been some turf battles . . . . I would consider this a landmark cooperative project."
The program will offer specially tailored social, medical, educational and job-training aid to troubled young people 12 to 17 years old who are under the jurisidiction of the Family Division of the D.C. Superior Court.
Candidates will be referred to the program by the city's Department of Human Services or by Superior Court. Attorneys, caseworkers or public or private agency staff members may bring youths to the attention of the department or the court.
City officials say that many of the youths who will be included in the program are not considered dangerous enough to be kept in residential treatment centers, yet require more intensive assistance than they could get if placed on probation. They will include some youths on probation and some committed to institutions who have at least a year to go before their scheduled release.
"It is our hope that the service plans for these youths will be available to the court prior to disposition as a guide to judges in making commitment decisions," said Shackleton, who is chairman of the council's Committee on Human Services. "Frequently, because no such local community-based options have existed, children have been court-ordered to very restrictive and expensive out-of-state placement."
"In many cases, traditional probation is not enough, yet commitment to the Youth Center is too harsh," Judge Gladys Kessler, head of the Family Division, said yesterday. "This program is intended to fill that gap."
The project, to be financed with $250,000 in city funds and a $136,000 federal grant, stems from a study conducted by Dr. Mary Beyer and commisioned by Shackleton's committee.
The project will be directed by Alice Coner of the D.C. Office of Criminal Justice Plans and Analysis. The project's five-member staff will come from the Department of Human Services, the Department of Employment Services, the D.C. public schools and the Superior Court.
Staff members will prepare "service packages" for each participant and work closely with the families of the youths.
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie, who attended yesterday's press conference, said that the city's schools will try harder to help troubled youths who have been placed on probation by the courts.
"We will assign a senior staff person to work on the project so that when these young people do come back . . . they can get the kind of services that will avoid recidivism," she said.