Champaign's Youth Assessment Center may need a new home

Champaign's Youth Assessment Center may need a new home

CHAMPAIGN — Two officials behind the city's Youth Assessment Center informed the Champaign City Council this week that a new building could be needed come next year.

The center, currently housed at a Unit 4-owned building at 401 N. Randolph St., has operated since 2013 as a bridge between social-service providers and police, dealing with juvenile offenders and at-risk youth.

Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said the center and law enforcement work outside of the criminal-justice system to aid youth between 10 and 17, as well as their families.

"Come March of 2018, because of Unit 4 building plans, we may not have access to that building," Daniels said. "We probably won't."

A steering committee is in the early stages of working with stakeholders to identify a new location. Some council members said they welcome a discussion on how the city can help in the process.

Local county governments and community agencies provide $235,000 annually to the center while the Champaign Police Department pitches in $15,000 for officer work, Daniels said. For the 2013-14 fiscal year, the center was one of two programs to receive 5 percent of a quarter-cent sales tax on goods taken to pay for public safety projects.

Daniels also briefed the council on other challenges facing the center. He said the 2017 crime statistics so far show an increase in recidivism over previous years, and the CPD is working with the center to evaluate if it's a short-term problem and find ways to prevent it from spiking again.

Council member Will Kyles suggested that the difficulties previous offenders face when trying to get a job could be a contributing factor.

Another challenge Daniels mentioned is better communication, streamlining and collaboration between the center and CPD. He said he's confident that the center's newly hired coordinator — former Champaign police officer and Unit 4 school board member Jonathan Westfield — can help.

Westfield noted recently that he will start partnering the center with similar local agencies, such as the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.

"I'm excited" about Westfield, said council member Clarissa Nickerson Fourman. "Many of our youth in the center will look like him, and someone talking to you that looks like you goes very far."

In his presentation, Daniels noted some of the center's accomplishments, as well. He said it provides more efficient intake processes and saves time for CPD staff, which he calls "a very wise investment."

"Since 2014, (the center) processed over 2,300 juvenile referrals, with Champaign police consistently referring the highest amount each year," Daniels said. "In 2016, there were 250 social service treatment referrals."

Those referrals, he said, include remediation, drug and alcohol assessment and the Parenting with Love and Limits program, which provides education and group therapy to families.

"Let's face it," Daniels said. "A lot of these kids are in homes that are challenging."