Young caseworkers to pester some Essex juveniles into behaving themselves Choice program tried in county BALTIMORE COUNTY

February 05, 1993|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

About two dozen Essex juveniles with troubled backgrounds will soon find young caseworkers hot on their trails, pestering them to go to school or get home on time -- driving them if necessary -- under a preventive program opening in Baltimore County.

This intense supervision is a hallmark of the Choice program, which is designed to help youngsters who have had minor problems before they get into real trouble.

The new county program received grants this week of $75,000 from the state and $37,500 from the county, said Jacqueline M. Lampell, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS). Supervised by DJS and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Choice already operates in Baltimore and in Prince George's County.

In Baltimore County, the caseworkers will be soon be moving to permanent quarters in a trailer at Chesapeake High School on Turkey Point Road, according to Craig J. Dempsey, acting director of Choice.

They will serve 20 to 25 children, ages 9 to 17, from the 21221 Essex ZIP code, plus residents of Aero Acres, Glen Mar, Hawthorne, Maple Crest, Oak Grove and Victory Villa Gardens.

Mr. Dempsey said youngsters are referred to the program by DJS after they have been found delinquent, truant or otherwise ungovernable.

The idea is to develop "contracts" with the juveniles and their families, and then to keep in close contact to avoid having them move farther into the juvenile system, said John S. Martello, executive director of Choice and a professor of psychology at UMBC.

The program doesn't accept youths who have committed serious crimes against people, or those who need mental or drug-abuse therapy, Dr. Martello said.

The caseworkers serve only a year or 14 months, he said, so

they don't lose their enthusiasm.

Mr. Dempsey said the caseworkers, generally new college graduates, will make two to five visits a day "out where the kids live. It's very concrete things, like going to school each day, being at home at night, being responsible for your behavior and your whereabouts."

For example, Ms. Lampell said, "they'll go to the park where the kids hang out, get out of their car and say, "Jimmy, curfew. Can I drive you home?' or 'Didn't you have homework to do?' It's a really excellent program."

She noted that programs such as Choice are "allowed to focus on the ones they can help."

Another factor in their success is a low caseload: about eight juveniles per caseworker in the Choice program.

"You don't burn out your counselors," Ms. Lampell said. "And you have time to work with them, to achieve something."

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