More than two decades ago, Clayton County began to see a shift from its suburban demographics when thousands of families migrated to the area from the city of Atlanta after the destruction of their public housing developments for the 1996 Olympics. This change presented several challenges which resulted in a rise in both crime and poverty in Clayton County. Coupled with the Columbine High School mass shooting tragedy—after which several schools across the country, including Clayton County schools, began to enforce a zero-tolerance policy— youth arrests began to spike.
Clayton County Juvenile Court (CCJC) Chief Judge Steve Teske himself noticed the escalation of youth coming through his court, prompting him to brainstorm some preventative solutions. He noticed that many of them were entering the system for misdemeanors and other behavioral related incidents not necessarily warranting court involvement. Teske also knew that research indicates children who are arrested or enter the court system are more likely to fall further into the juvenile court system, decreasing their chances of a successful future.
To address this issue, CCJC, Clayton County Public Schools and community leaders, under Teske’s leadership, came together to begin a community conversation that led to the creation of a nationally recognized innovative School-Justice partnership. Our School-Justice partnership focused on reducing the unnecessary arrest and confinement of at-risk children by providing discipline alternatives that keep students engaged in school and promote success. Our community adopted the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) to implement a program focused on children who have become involved with the Juvenile Court. Since its inception, Clayton’s JDAI program has promoted alternatives to traditional detention that have proven more successful in rehabilitation and restoration.
Subsequently, the School Referral Reduction Protocol (SRRP) was developed to identify behaviors and actions that mandated court involvement. The new protocol instantly drove down the number of referrals to the juvenile court and led to advanced training of School Resource Officers and buy-in from the police forces in Clayton County.
One key piece, however, was still missing. Students with chronically disruptive behavioral issues, that did not meet the SRRP defined criteria for referral to juvenile court, had underlying needs that needed to be met.
Consequently, Clayton County System of Care (CCSC) was enacted in 2008 to coordinate and facilitate interagency partnerships to deliver a comprehensive continuum of behavioral health services. The system incorporates prevention practices such as community support, intensive individual and group mentoring; individual, group and family therapy; tutoring, college readiness and life skills; job readiness; and trauma responsive care. All services are youth centered, youth focused, and youth informed to keep children in school, out of court, and on to a positive, healthy future.
Today CCSC is nationally recognized as an award-winning program that addresses health and wellness disparities among Clayton County’s most vulnerable youth by facilitating access to positive resources that promote healthy behaviors and coping skills. Working in partnership with CCPS, CCJC, and a network of community partners and professionals, CCSC strengthens our community by improving educational attainment, reducing youth crime and helping to break the cycle of generational poverty.
CCSC started as a pilot program by providing access to critical behavioral health services in four middle schools and has since expanded access to all 66 Clayton County public schools. Today, CCSC on average serves more than 500 students annually.