From The News-Gazette's Black History Month 2013 section, published Feb. 10, 2013.
CHAMPAIGN — Tracy Parsons and Jonte Rollins believe it's better for the student and better for the taxpayers if young people deal with their school and family issues and substance abuse before they spend time in the criminal justice system.
Parsons, the former head of the Urban League here, is the director of the project, now in the middle of its six-year grant life.
Thus, Champaign County's ACCESS Initiative.
Rollins is the linkage, engagement and communications director for the program, which has its headquarters in the lower level of 202 W. Park Ave., C.
The local program had its roots in 2009, Rollins said.
"We're building a system of care for youth, targeting kids who might be in the juvenile justice or with mental health issues," she said.
The ACCESS Initiative in Champaign County is funded in partnership with the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, Illinois Department of Human Services and the Champaign County Mental Health Board. Parsons said Champaign County has a disproportionately large number of juveniles in the justice system — including longer stays in the system than in Cook County — and part of the initiative is to explore the ramifications of that anomaly.
Its charge is "to lead a trauma-informed, community-based, culturally competent, youth-guided, family-driven journey of transformation to ensure Champaign County's youth grow to be resilient, resourceful, responsible and restored."
The project is aimed at Champaign County youths ages 10-18 to help them function better at home, in school, in the community and throughout life.
They are referred to appropriate service providers, contacted biweekly for follow-up and tracked to determine their progress.
"Case managers screen juvenile offenders referred to our program to identify issues that may have influenced the offense" and "link these youth to services to best address" those issues, according to the program's website.
The youths are screened by case managers at the ACCESS Initiative, using the Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument Pre-Screen Assessment.
ACCESS Initiative works with another program in Champaign, Youth MOVE Illinois. The second group serves to create an equal partnership among youth, community services and mental health professionals to ensure students reach their potential in school, home and community.
For more information about the ACCESS Initiative and to join its email group, visit the official website at http://www.access-initiative.org .