The Riverside Police Department has partnered with a Chicago-based nonprofit social service agency to provide an array of services – from emergency temporary housing to mental health and counseling services – for juveniles who end up in police custody for whatever reason.
Youth Outreach Services, which was founded in 1959 and has five field offices in Chicago and the suburbs, will be available to Riverside police 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help provide intervention services quickly without police officers having to mediate family disputes or serve as de facto social workers.
While the agency has served as a resource for North Riverside and Brookfield for many years due to their Proviso and Lyons township locations, said Youth Outreach Services Executive Director Jamie Noto, Riverside is a newer service area.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he learned about the agency’s services during their presentation to the West Suburban Chiefs of Police Association a few months ago.
“We’ve really stepped up our outreach efforts, because there’s a need in the community for these services,” Noto said.
Crisis intervention services include short-term case management and linking families with appropriate services, providing temporary placement in foster care or “host homes” and providing counseling and appropriate mental health services.
“They have psychologists, psychiatrists and nurses on staff, a wide array of professionals, who are better suited to handle situations than a patrol officer on the street,” said Weitzel.
Now when Riverside police are confronted with a juvenile issue that requires some type of intervention, officers can call Youth Outreach Services, which has a field office in Melrose Park, and someone will respond within an hour, Weitzel said.
“These cases take an enormous amount of time, and we assume full responsibility for the juvenile, period,” said Weitzel. “This organization will help us mediate this much better.”
Sometimes juveniles end up in police custody because they are suspected of committing a crime, but not always. Juveniles sometimes end up showing up at the police station because their parents refuse to let them stay at home anymore because of behavioral or other issues.
There are also times when a parent comes to the police station seeking assistance, because they suspect their child might be doing drugs and are looking for help dealing with that.
And, sometime children end up in police custody as a result of their parent’s behavior, for example, being in a vehicle with a parent who has been arrested.
“By the time they come to see us, family problems have been going on for a long time,” Weitzel said. “Our job is to put them in a protective atmosphere and direct them to services that can help them.”
Weitzel said police officers try to avoid involving the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, because that agency can be slow to respond, sometimes not for 24 hours. And once DCFS takes custody of the juvenile, police sometimes don’t know the eventual outcome.
During that time, police have to essentially babysit the juvenile, keeping an officer away from other duties. Police in the past have served as mediators between juveniles and their parents. If that fails, they try to contact other relatives and in one case were able to contact a pastor who was able to find a family friend to mediate a juvenile situation.
Weitzel said there have been cases where police have had custody of a juvenile for a day and a half, once waiting for relatives to come in from out of state to deal with the situation.
Police also have provided information about social services available to families, but it’s up to the family to follow through. And sometimes when it’s late at night or on the weekend, many organizations are not open.
Youth Outreach Service’s caseworkers are available at all times to respond.
“They are more accessible,” Weitzel said.