students and 20 sheriff’s deputies took part in Camp LEAD to work on creating positive change in their communities.
For people already in the criminal justice system, or at risk of entering it, even small hurdles can become barriers to a productive life in the community. The ripple effect extends to their families, their neighborhoods and beyond.
The County’s public safety departments are breaking down these barriers to success with proven programs that help juveniles and adults successfully transition back into the community. The County is also placing a new emphasis on preventing young people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
This past year, the District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office launched Success Agents, a mentorship program designed to help at-risk youth. The project pairs 18 Johnson Elementary School fourth-graders with volunteer mentors from the District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the San Diego Police Department. They meet weekly to work on literacy, resilience, self-esteem and discipline.
The Sheriff’s after-school program RESPECT expanded this last year to include 31 students from the communities of San Marcos, Fallbrook and Valley Center. RESPECT started in 2014 for children in the North County and stands for Respect, Ethics, Strength, Perseverance, Education, Courage and Trustworthiness. For four months, middle and high school students meet sheriff’s deputies every week for classes, guest speaker events, free meals and sports activities.
The Sheriff also expanded the Camp LEAD (Leadership, Equity, Access and Diversity) Program from two school districts to five. Over 800 students and 20 sheriff’s deputies took part in a three-day, two-night residential camp to work on creating positive change in their communities.
The Public Defender’s Office and 24 downtown-area high school students also formed a Youth Council last January. Attorney advisors train and guide students on how they can make a difference in their community. This group of civically engaged teens meets every other Sunday to discuss the progress on their community projects. Youth Council members are working together toward a common goal and making an impact on the lives of others as well as their own.
A new pilot summer program called Safe Destinations or SD Nights at the Spring Valley Teen Center proved to be so successful that County Parks and Recreation is expanding it to centers in Lakeside, Oceanside, Santee and other cities. The free program is designed to keep teens occupied during a critical time on Friday nights and allows them to get to know members of the Sheriff’s and County Probation departments.
Breaking barriers to success takes on other challenges too. Obstacles can range from homelessness to getting a high school or college degree. The County Library obtained 300 program scholarships for its Library High School last year, a program where students can work toward a degree online and in their own time. Graduates earn an accredited high school diploma and can work toward career certificates in any one of eight fields. The Department of Child Support Services found about 2,500 people in their caseload could benefit from the free program and joined the Library in offering online high school. Students may use computers and Wi-Fi at Child Support locations and all County Library branches.
About 60 percent of the families who work with Child Support Services live at or below the poverty line. To break the cycle, the department implemented a new college savings program in March 2018 called Parents Investing in Education. Parents can donate as little as $5 a month to build savings. The state’s ScholarShare program will match up to $250. For parents who owe money for unpaid support, college savings deposits may count toward paying off that debt. Research shows college savings instills a college-bound mindset in children.
Child Support Services also noticed transportation was a barrier for many customers. To better serve the public, the department expanded the “In Your Neighborhood” program from eight libraries to 17 local libraries and community centers. The department also began working with several community organizations and now seven offer services at each office location. For customers in the criminal justice system who cannot visit a Child Support office for help, the department takes services to them with regular on-site visits where case questions, service, genetic testing, stipulations and order modifications are addressed.
The department also streamlined what active duty service members called a long, burdensome process to modify child support orders when leaving the service. New veterans would sometimes fall behind on payments and find themselves with suspended drivers’ licenses, poor credit reports and bank levies. In some cases, the financial burden led to veteran homelessness. The improved process stops the downward spiral by making help more readily available.
Children sometimes find themselves without either parent in the home. In San Diego County, over 21,000 grandparents are raising their grandchildren. The County learned the teenagers in these kinship families are often overlooked at an age when they need opportunities to grow and thrive. This last year, a teen-focused program was added to the 2018 East Region Grandparents Raising Grandchildren event. More than three dozen teenagers attended a workshop where they talked about their goals, played games and heard the inspiring story of a Paralympic athlete.
This last year, some kinship families also went “Gramping.” County Health and Parks officials came together and offered a full camping experience free of charge. This first-ever kinship family campout took place at Dos Picos County Park in Ramona and drew nearly 50 people. Gramping may now become an annual event.
One mistake can change the direction of someone’s life. Fresh Start helped Amy start over.
You truly made an impact to my life, and were one of the very few who truly cared… I began to realize that being in a gang is not what I wanted. It took me two years to finally make the step to drop out, and as I sit here I reflect on the kind words you told me…”
I sure hope you know what an impact you have made on my life. Thank you for the encouragement!"
There is not much we can do about the non-custodial parent because he is giving us a hard time, but her attitude about helping me is everything! I’m so grateful to have her working my case."
You were part of great organizations in the County to assist us with our Grand Kids during the year and a half we had them. Our Good Tax Dollars working to make things better. Thank you."
As a senior raising a special needs child, it was wonderful to have an event I didn’t have to do all the work!”
collected in child support