- Prior to the beginning of a school term, those students with school attendance issues in the prior school year are invited (along with their parent or guardian) to a court session for a presentation on their school attendance obligations and potential legal consequences for excessive absences. The list of invitees is provided by St. Charles Parish Schools, and the Petition summoning the invitees is prepared by the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office.
This joint effort of St. Charles Parish Schools, the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office, and the court is intended to be a positive, uplifting experience. The court appearance typically includes the viewing of brief motivational videos from the internet and a brief “pep talk” from the presiding judge.
An agreement is then entered into between the student, parent/guardian, and the court. This agreement becomes a court order. Violation of the agreement will result in a court summons for a Truancy Court hearing within three days of the summons.
Prior to the 2012-2013 school term, 70 students attended Truancy Court for an August 2012 Truancy Court hearing. Of the 70 students, 54 (77 percent) were successful in altering their school attendance and had no referrals to Truancy Court during the entire 2012-2013 school year. Prior to the 2013-2014 school term, 92 students attended Truancy Court for an August 2013 Truancy Court hearing. Of the 92 students, 86 (93 percent) were successful in altering their school attendance and had no referrals to Truancy Court during the entire 2012-2013 school year.
- During the school term, Truancy Court is held on Mondays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. The duty judge presides over Truancy Court, and representatives from the school system and district attorney’s office are present. ALL students with school attendance issues (excessive un-excused absences or tardies) and their parent/guardian are summoned to the next Truancy Court hearing date. At the hearing, an attempt is made to identify the underlying issues. If appropriate, the child is referred to a court-funded counseling program. Monthly follow-up court sessions are ordered as necessary.During the 2012-2013 school term, 193 students were referred for truancy issues. Of those students, 44 percent were compliant after the first or second court visit, with the remainder being either referred to juvenile court for adjudication or referred to counseling with further court appearances mandated.
During the 2013-2014 school term, 160 students were referred for truancy issues. Of those students, 49.4 percent were compliant after the first or second court visit, with the remainder being either referred to juvenile court for adjudication or referred to counseling with further court appearances mandated.
Families in Need of Services / Juvenile Court
Families in Need of Services (FINS) is a legislatively created panel of entities which considers issues arising with children and families in St. Charles Parish. The main purpose of FINS is to address the needs of children and families before they enter the legal system. FINS is a pro-active, ‘pre-adjudication’ measure to help children who are considered at risk of offending stay out of the court system.
FINS is run by a Board comprised of representatives from all stakeholders in the criminal justice field. These include representatives from the following:
- 29th Judicial District Court (Juvenile Coordinator)
- District Attorney’s Office
- Sheriff’s Office (Misdemeanor Probation Officer and JOMP Officer)
- Office of Juvenile Justice (State Probation Officers)
- River Parishes Mental Health
- St. Charles Parish Schools, Office of Child Welfare and Attendance
- Department of Children and Family Services (Child Protection)
- Creative Family Solutions (Counseling providers)
The FINS Board meets monthly and handles referrals from any agency which identifies a family which is in need of assistance. The main sources of referrals are St. Charles Parish Schools and the juvenile division of the Sheriff’s Office.
At the FINS hearing, the underlying issues are identified and discussed, and a plan is then confected to address same. Said plan typically include a referral for an assessment for the need for counseling services, and then a referral for said counseling services. If the parties agree to the plan, a FINS agreement is signed. Creative Family Solutions, a local non-profit, provides the coordinating of services and monitoring of same. In the event that the parties do not complete the terms of the contract, the family is referred to juvenile court for adjudication.
In juvenile court, a petition is filed against the child and/or parents, the parties are served with same, and a court date is given. After appropriate due process, if sufficient proof is adduced to prove the charges, the child and/or family is adjudicated Families in Need of Services, and services are then court-ordered.
Services can include all facets of the mental health spectrum, including substance abuse treatment. In 2013, the Judges of the 29th Judicial District Court contracted with Creative Family Solutions to provide a substance abuse program for children in St. Charles Parish. This program was funded by the judges in fiscal year 2013, and St. Charles Parish began funding of the same in fiscal year 2014.
Domestic Court: Custody Evaluations, Mediation and Facilitation
Children do not ask for their parents to separate. Through no fault of their own, children are the unintended victims of a failed relationship between their parents. The consequences of separation and/or divorce on children can easily be multiplied many times over whenever the parents engage in an acrimonious battle over custody, visitation, and finances.
In order to minimize these myriad of negative effects on the children, the 29th Judicial District judges have funded a program which refers the parties to trained professionals who are proficient in custody evaluations, in the mediation of custody issues, and in the facilitation of implementing custody orders of the court. An important part of these services is providing the necessary counseling for the parties and their children. These processes all identify underlying issues of the parents and/or the children and provide the necessary counseling in an attempt to resolve underlying issues, to reduce the stressors in the family’s lives, and to keep both the parents and the children from becoming statistics in the justice system.
The programs have been hugely successful in resolving custody/visitation disputes before the nastiness of court battles commences and in providing parenting tools to the parents and coping mechanisms for the parents and the children.
Youth Empowerment Project
In January 2012, the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) started a pilot of its Community Based Prevention (CBP) program in St. Charles Parish. The goal of the program is to provide strong mentorship to youth ages 12-16 at risk of becoming engaged in the juvenile justice system. Youth who participate in the CBP program receive one-on-one mentoring, participate in fun and educational field trips, and take part in weekly groups on subjects such as anger management and receive individual mental health counseling as needed.
The St. Charles Parish CBP program has proven extremely successful due to strong partnerships with the St. Charles Parish judges, the FINS committee, Creative Family solutions, the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, and the St. Charles Parish School Board. YEP staff members work closely with the judges and the FINS committee to identify young men who could benefit from the program.
- St. Charles Parish Council, with the support of the Parish President
- Salary and benefits for Juvenile Coordinator
- Salary and benefits for Drug Court Coordinator/Judicial Administrator
- Salary and benefits for Drug Court Compliance Officer
- Contract with St, Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office for salary, benefits, and car reimbursement for Juvenile Probation Officer
- Funding for support services (counseling/programs/staffing) to local non-profits and contracted counseling
- Louisiana Supreme Court, FINS funding
- Louisiana Supreme Court, Adult Drug Court funding
- Louisiana Supreme Court, Juvenile Drug Court funding
- St. Charles Sheriff Greg Champagne, salary and benefits for other juvenile officers
- 29th Judicial District Judicial Clerks Fund
- 29th Judicial District Indigent Defender Board (no state funding)
- United Way of St. Charles Parish
- St. Charles Parish Community Health Center
- Center for Family and Youth Services, d/b/a Creative Family Solutions
Interested in Participating?
Anyone who is interested in assisting with any of the foregoing programs, or anyone wanting to be considered for providing counseling services for any of said programs, is asked to contact the court at the address or phone numbers on the court website. Please include in your request the types of services offered, the curriculum vitae of the counselor to provide services, and the desired rate structure for same.