Appendix: Pulaski County Juvenile Court, Volunteer Probation Officer-Teen Parenting Program|
Little Rock, Arkansas
When Pulaski County Circuit Judge Rita Gruber noticed that many first-time offenders were "falling through the cracks" of juvenile court due to the heavy case loads of probation officers, she established a Volunteer Probation Officer (VPO) program to better supervise minor offenders and prevent future delinquency. Based on a model in Shelby County, Tennessee, Pulaski County's VPO program began operating in 1992. Because of a high rate of teen pregnancy among girls on probation, and the special risks facing both teen mothers and their children, a gender-specific component was later added to supervise female offenders who are pregnant or parenting. Supervision and parenting education takes place through visits and phone calls to the girls' homes.
The Volunteer Probation Officer program addresses teen pregnancy as an issue that spans three generationsthe juvenile, her parents, and her child. The program not only aims to prevent teen pregnancy among offenders who are on probation, but also to increase the competency of those teens who are pregnant or already parenting. The in-home education and support provided to participants fits with the juvenile court's philosophy of rehabilitating juveniles through the least restrictive means.
Because this program relies on volunteers to serve as probation officers, staffing is dependent on the success of recruitment efforts. Typically, the program operates with a staff of 120 Volunteer Probation Officers, of whom 10 to 15 have undergone extra training to work with teen parents. (All VPOs receive 10 hours of initial training; those in the teen parenting program receive an additional two hours of training focusing on parenting skills and female development.) Girls are supervised by female volunteers. Frequently, girls and their VPO are of the same race or share an ethnic background. The program employs an in-home facilitator, who is a licensed social worker, and a volunteer supervisor.
The majority of girls in the teen parenting program were born to teen mothers themselves. Seventy-four percent of the girls are African American, 26 percent Caucasian. Their most common offenses include shoplifting, battery, or status offenses. Many of the probationers have received poor or inadequate parenting and little adult supervision. They may have been exposed to parental substance abuse, personal substance abuse, and domestic violence (as witnesses or victims). Many have experienced chronic school failure and may have learning disabilities. Staff believe that many of the girls are seeking attention, love, and acceptance in negative ways.
The first stage of programming, after a girl is referred by Juvenile Court or Children and Family Services, involves 10 weekly home visits by the "in-home facilitator." Each visit, lasting from one to two hours, offers parenting education and positive skill development to the girl and her family. The girl's parents are required to attend at least the last four weekly sessions, when the topics include: limit setting; supervision; birth control; and sexuality. After the first 10 weeks, follow-up supervision is conducted by a VPO who makes home visits or phone contact every week. Each girl also has an individual needs assessment and service plan, which helps connect her with other community resources.
The program enables girls to bond with a caring adult who provides a positive role model. Relationship building is a major emphasis of the program.