County Program Provides Diversion, Not Detention, For Youths

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- When the family problems of troubled Salt Lake County children get to be too much, there is a place the youths can spend some time away from their kin.

The county program, now in its fourth decade, provides temporary housing for the youths.

"We're not a detention facility, we're strictly a diversion," said Catherine Higgins, volunteer coordinator and spokeswoman for the county Division of Youth Services. "We make an assessment of what the child needs, then put together a crisis plan for each one that comes here."

The Crisis Intake Services program allows children to relax without using heavy-handed authority figures. It houses scores of counselors and substance-abuse services, funded by county, state and federal grants.

Licensed therapists provide free anger-management for juveniles 8 to 18 years old.

Higgins said the crisis center typically sees 10 to 20 children a day.

Don Briggs, a retired Reno, Nev., policeman, has been with the program for seven years.

"This gives them a setting where they can get away from adults," Briggs said. "Counselors play pool with kids, listen to music and relate in a more informal setting.

"It's amazing to me how many problems are solved, and we never see the kids again," he said.

In tough cases, children can stay 48 hours, but most meet with a parent or guardian the morning after they arrive.

The program also can provide an alternative to the detention center for children involved with shoplifting or joy riding.

"There's no criminal record here," Briggs said. "That's what's nice about it."

When school is out -- Christmas break as well as summer -- Crisis Intake gets busy.

Briggs said the worst cases are children suffering from neglect or abuse, as well as parents who "dump" their children at the center.

But many become success stories.

In the week before Christmas, a 15-year-old girl who had veered toward drugs and been seemingly lived at the center at 13, returned with her mother to drop off homemade cookies.

"I don't need the cookies, but it was nice," Briggs said. "It gives us a warm feeling around the holidays."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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