Justice and Direction: How Stearns County Handles Juveniles
ST. CLOUD -- Helping kids and teenagers across the county is the mission of the Juvenile Division of the Stearns County Attorney's Office.
They handle cases involving minors, from runaways to daycare and foster care licensing appeals. The division tries to protect all kids and guide some kids away from a life of crime.
Matthew Engelking is the Chief of the Juvenile Division. He says his team is in the community a lot, working closely with both law enforcement and social services. They come together in "multi-disciplinary teams".
"An investigation is currently ongoing. And right now even we have an attorney that's at the CAC this morning working as part of that multi-disciplinary team with law enforcement and human services to interview the child at the child advocacy center."
Engelking's attorney's try and balance justice being done and making sure kids aren't raised in the system.
"[We need to make sure] that we're doing the utmost that we can to protect public safety when it's a juvenile involved in the system, but also to ensure the response that we're taking is keeping kids safe."
These days technology has let the division track their cases better than ever before. It's also shown some interesting new data. According to the attorney's office, anywhere from 73 - 94% of kids referred for delinquency charges have already been the subject of a child protection referral in Stearns County.
Engelking says technology has also given rise to a few new challenges, even though it helps cut down on a lot of stacks of paper.
"How do we coordinate the sharing of information in that [the digital] way. How do we manage that data, how do we make sure all parties have it, redacting that type of record is different from redating a piece of paper."
The Juvenile Division benefits from a special program designed to anticipate how much case traffic they'll see in a given year.
Since 2012, they've seen an increase in child protection filings, from 122 in 2012 to 257 in 2017. They're currently on pace for 280 in 2018. However, they have seen a decrease in juvenile delinquency filings, from 118 in 2010 to 83 in 2017.
Thanks to some programs and proactive actions taken by the Juvenile Division, since 2011 Stearns County has seen a decrease in youth "re-entry" rates of 15%.
The Juvenile Division is made up of five attorneys, two paralegals and one diversion program specialist, who helps the attorneys deal with the children brought to them through each case.
Thursday, WJON takes a look at the criminal division of the attorney's office, headed by Ole Tvedten.