Mention the Genesee County Youth Bureau and thoughts of after-school activities or arts and crafts may come to mind. But, as you learn more about the agency’s operation, it becomes clear that interaction with today’s adolescent population is not all fun and games.
Youth Bureau Director Jocelyn Sikorski touched on a couple of the more serious issues on Monday as she presented a departmental review and outlook at the County Legislature’s Human Services Committee Zoom videoconferencing meeting.
Sikorski said the bureau received 30 referrals – the most ever – to Youth Court in 2019, with 24 of them coming from law enforcement and the remainder from schools and the Probation Department.
Eighteen of the referrals (and subsequent trials) occurred in the last three months of the year, resulting in a very busy time for Program Coordinator Chelsea Elliott and Program Assistant Chelsea Green, she said.
She recounted the story of a 15-year-old boy who was referred to Youth Court on a criminal mischief complaint and ended up having to perform 35 hours of community service, write three essays for reflection and a letter of apology, and take anger management classes.
“A lot of his issues were with his father, specifically, and as a result, she (Elliott) placed them to do community service at our local animal shelter,” Sikorski said. “And because of his age they asked that a parent be with him.”
Sikorski said that the boy and his dad completed the service together at the animal shelter and they continue to do so.
“On top of completing the community service hours and building the relationship with his father – which was something that was vital to his success – they are still supporting our local animal shelter,” Sikorski reported. “He is one of our positives out of our Youth Court system. They’re all very positive, but that’s one that really stood out.”
The director also shared a story connected to the department’s Safe Harbour program that deals with child trafficking and human trafficking. The youth bureau is in the first year of a five-year funding cycle through a contract with the Department of Social Services.
“Since COVID started, we had a call from Restore (a program of Planned Parenthood) and they said they have a young woman who they believed is being trafficked who was coming in for medical services, but they couldn’t ask her because the individual who was potentially trafficking her was coming to all her appointments,” Sikorski said.
Due to the virus guidelines, that other person was not allowed in the exam room, and that gave counselors a chance to provide resources such as domestic violence information and a list of places where the woman could go for temporary housing.
Sikorski said the young woman has two small children, so “she’s not necessarily ready to leave, but if she needs help, she knows where she can get it now and they were able to have that conversation with her.”
She said the bureau’s goal this year is to provide community education and training and to conduct a media campaign leading to a needs assessment to youth-serving professionals (police, school counselors) who work with anyone that would come in contact with a young person who could be at risk of being trafficked.
In 2019, the youth bureau distributed 35 Go Bags to at-risk or runaway youth, Sikorski said. These backpacks include supplies for a night – health and beauty products, a blanket, hat and gloves, granola bars, trail mix, bottled water and gift card for coffee. Twenty-seven of the Go Bags went to the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department, which has a bag in the trunk of all its patrol cars.
On the subject of activities and events for youth, Sikorski said COVID-19 has brought things to a standstill and that could be the case for a while longer since youth programs are in Phase Four of the state’s reopening plan.
“Our funded programs, all but one are closed and not operating at this time,” she said. “I’m waiting to hear back from some of our funded youth rec programs for the summer months.”
Sikorski said springtime is normally the bureau’s busiest time of the year,
“About every other week we had major events scheduled, and moving into the summer as well that we have had to cancel or postpone,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have some semblance of normalcy in the fall where we will be able to get back to doing the things we routinely do for our community, but it has been a challenge.”
The Genesee County Youth Bureau provides a variety of services, activities and events, primarily in Genesee County, including the Liberty Center for Youth in the City of Batavia, and also in Orleans County. For more information, go to its website.