Brookfield and two other Trumbull County schools will participate in a program designed to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system.

Trumbull County Family Court Juvenile Division has been awarded a two-year RECLAIM Ohio grant from the Ohio Department of Youth Services to fund at least a majority of the program, said Trumbull County Family Court Judge Sandra Stabile Harwood.

Trumbull County Educational Services Center will manage the program and hire a case worker who will visit Brookfield, Hubbard and Southington schools. The case worker will assess children referred by the school and be able to refer them to counseling or other programs that address their needs, she said.

“The point of this whole thing is to prevent children who are at-risk from ever coming before the court,” Harwood said on Jan. 20.

promoThe grant provides $50,000 a year, and Harwood said she was not sure that the program could be run for that amount. She said court officials are working out details with the services center, and those discussions include who will be responsible for any additional funds. She said the schools will not be asked to pitch in.

Harwood said she expects teachers will make the bulk of the referrals.

School officials will look at “attendance, behavior, grades, those types of things,” Brookfield Supt. Toby Gibson told the school board Jan. 14. “They’ll (grant program) help provide interventions to get that child back on track.”

The court also is working on a separate program to assess children who come into the system to try to find a root cause of their problems, whether it be trauma, substance abuse or mental health, and get them help, and already has a diversion program, Harwood said.

“The answer isn’t always that you go directly to court,” she said. “We’ll do anything we can to keep kids out of the courtroom.”

The court receives calls from families who are worried that a child is heading in the wrong direction, and they don’t know how to get help, Harwood said. With the RECLAIM Ohio grant program, children in the three school districts may be able to be reached even earlier than they can be now, she said.

“What we’re doing is just trying to do whatever we can to intervene early so that the kids can move on and reach their fullest potential and not get caught up in the juvenile system,” Harwood said. “It’s all about saving these kids.”

Gibson said he expects the program will start this school year, and the case worker to be in Brookfield one or two days a week.

“I think it’s another resource that the district has to help kids,” he said. “Especially now, during the pandemic, we see a lot of families struggling, we see students struggling with behavioral issues and some attendance issues. Here’s an avenue to help provide some resources and some interventions to try and curb that.”