Court Designated Workers Make a Difference
Positive intervention at a critical point in the life of a young person can often mean the difference between a bright future and a hopeless one. Court designated workers (CDWs) continually see their efforts change the lives of Kentucky’s youth. Because they process juvenile complaints against individuals under the age of 18, CDWs are in a position to influence children and teens who are in trouble.
The complaints are known as public offenses or status offenses. Status offenses are noncriminal forms of juvenile behavior, such as running away from home, skipping class, tobacco offenses or exhibiting beyond-control behaviors at home or at school. Public offenses are the same as adult crimes.
Uniform criteria determine which juvenile complaints must be forwarded to formal court and which are eligible for informal processing through the CDW program. More serious offenses and repeat offenders are referred to formal court. Juveniles involved in minor offenses are generally eligible for informal processing and enter diversion agreements. A diversion agreement is a voluntary contract between the CDW and the juvenile to resolve a complaint.
In 1986, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted legislation to provide a statewide Court Designated Worker Program under the direction of the Department of Juvenile Services of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the administrative arm of the Kentucky Court of Justice. Each of Kentucky’s 120 counties have the services of a court designated worker who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Diversion Programs provide a chance to change
The court designated worker and the young person negotiate a diversion agreement during a formal conference that parents are requested to attend. Diversion agreements consist of conditions that relate to the alleged public or status offense and often include one or more of the following:
- Community Service
- Educational Seminar Attendance
- Drug/Alcohol Assessments
For example, a young person charged with criminal mischief in the third degree who enters a diversion agreement might be asked to participate in an educational program, complete 20 hours of community service, write a letter of apology, pay restitution for damaged items and stay off the victim’s property.
The diversion process is designed to educate, instill a sense of accountability and deter young people from getting into further trouble. CDWs monitor diversion agreements, which may last up to six months, to ensure that the juveniles comply with the conditions. If a juvenile successfully completes the agreement, the case is dismissed. If a juvenile fails to comply with the conditions of the diversion agreement, the case will be set for formal proceedings.
Juveniles who enter diversion can choose from several programs to help them gain confidence and get their lives back on track, such as:
- Law Related Education. These citizenship lessons focus on law, the legal process and societal values.
- Leadership. These programs develop leadership skills and promote self-reliance.
- Community Outreach. Young people create “I Care Kits,” greeting cards and food baskets, and carry out other projects to benefit senior citizens, disabled individuals and other community causes.
- Being All You Can Be. This 4-H program develops responsibility and self-esteem.
- Making It On Your Own. Young people learn independent living skills.
- Creative Arts. Youth learn how to write, paint, act, sew, quilt and other artistic skills.
- Community Garden. This program provides the opportunity to plant trees, shrubs and perennials to benefit the community.
- ATV Safety. This workshop teaches how to safely operate all-terrain vehicles.