Connecting with risky kids

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On any given day, Debbie Nadeau and her staff of 14 certified probation officers juggle 280 cases in Kootenai County—dealing with young people at odds with the law.

A lot of it is small stuff. Cigarettes. Vaping. Some pot.

For the most part, they’re good kids, said Nadeau, director of Kootenai County’s juvenile justice program. Her staff’s mission is to align hopes and desires for wayward kids to meet the needs of a law-abiding society. To promote family values. To carve a path for a better future.

It’s tough in some cases.

“A lot of these kids have dealt with past trauma. Death of a parent, bad situations at school, any sort of things,” said Nadeau. “Our goal is to assist young people to avoid delinquent behavior and to grow into mature adults and to do so without endangering the community.”

There will always be troubled youngsters who need special attention from a legal perspective, and Nadeau says trends have remained constant in recent years.

“About 70 percent of our clients are male,” Nadeau said.

Bullying plays a big part in bad behavior, but there are other factors, she said.

“What we strive for is to correct delinquent behavior while taking into account the best interest of the juvenile and protection of the community,” Nadeau said. “We prioritize our activities based upon a juvenile’s risk to the community, and we operate under a philosophy of graduated sanctions and rehabilitation.”

Nadeau said her staff’s caseload is divided among the schools within Kootenai County, with probation officers spending time in their assigned schools meeting with their clients and checking on attendance, grades and behavior.

There are other efforts as well to keep teens out of trouble and they’ve been ongoing for years.

“In 2016 we began collaborating with community partners to provide an equine therapy program for at-risk youth,” she said.

Equine-assisted therapy encompasses a range of treatments that involve activities with horses and other equines to promote human physical and mental health. It’s been especially effective with young people, Nadeau said.

She says some of her department’s most successful programs also include mentoring and girls circle groups, all of which are supported by volunteers.

“This volunteer force assists us in our continued effort of providing successful programs and professional services to the citizens of Kootenai County in a fiscally prudent manner,” she said.

Kootenai County commissioner Bill Brooks has high praise for Nadeau and her approach to youth crime.

“We are absolutely blessed to have somebody of her caliber working for us,” Brooks said. “In terms of recidivism among these kids, it’s absolutely low. We don’t see a bunch of re-offenders.”

Lt. Ryan Higgins with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department said deputies work closely with juvenile probation authorities to counter youth crime.

Overall, Higgins said, juvenile crime rates countywide have remained steady in recent years.

“We deal with the usual stuff — shoplifting, smoking...but the levels have remained pretty consistent. Not up or down by any significant measure in recent years,” Higgins said.

“The Juvenile Probation Department is doing a great job,” he said.

‘The Juvenile Probation Department currently utilizes over 30 community volunteers for our various programs. This volunteer force assists us in our continued effort of providing successful programs and professional services to the citizens of Kootenai County in a fiscally prudent manner.’

-- Debbie Nadeau

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