The Savannah Morning News updated this article with two corrections: The state pays for juvenile incarceration as opposed to the county. Front Porch does not check in with family every 90 days; they register with the family for a total of 90 days.
Between 2014 and 2017, Chatham County detained 1,881 youths. That’s when Chatham County jailed the second highest number of young people in the state, just behind Fulton County, which has four times the population.
Since 2018, however, the number of youth incarcerated has fallen by 31% due to a concerted effort to identify youth and families at risk of ending up in court and envelop them in community resources.
At the center of this effort is The Front Porch, 2203 Abercorn St., which celebrated its third anniversary in October.
The Front Porch, according to director Anne Robinson, is one of “80 assessment centers nationwide providing struggling youth and families with the service connections they need to thrive.”
During the celebration on October 29, Mayor Van Johnson spoke. “Today we are celebrating Front Porch, but what we are really celebrating is our greater community and that anything is possible when we work together.”
Return on investment
The state of Georgia spends $ 90,000 to $ 115,000 per juvenile incarcerated per year, said Robinson, in stark contrast to the $ 250,000 it takes to run the entire Front Porch organization per year. Over the past three years, Front Porch has served 700 families.
This quarter, Front Porch saw a 33% increase in the total number of families they have helped, Robinson said, and in September it completed its highest number of assessments in any given month.
That doesn’t mean more Chatham County kids are going down the wrong path, Robinson said. It just means that more children are being directed to the Front Porch rather than the juvenile justice system.
“And the good news is, we’re just getting started, aren’t we?” Robinson said.
But this statistic is, in many ways, a double-edged sword: demand could outweigh supply. The more referrals that are coming in the way of The Front Porch, the more likely it is that Front Porch will not have the bandwidth to match those referrals.
Because elementary, middle and high school started in 2021, referrals increased to 20 per week, unlike the 12 per week they received during the summer months. What fuels Robinson’s anxiety is that one day the numbers will reach a point where the referrals are so high the Front Porch won’t be able to help.
“You want to make sure that none of these kids fall through the cracks,” Robinson said.
To fill the gaps, Front Porch needs more internal partners. And hiring more internal partners requires more public funding. “I don’t want anyone to interpret that I say we are destitute or something like that, but certainly, if [referrals] continue to increase as they are, we will also need the number of [in-house partners] to augment.”
When Front Porch receives a referral for a child from the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System or a local law enforcement agency, the first thing staff do is perform an assessment to determine the the most pressing needs and challenges of the child – and families, from substance abuse and mental health counseling to educational support and prosocial activities. On the basis of the assessment, the staff put the child in contact with an internal agency which covers this family of services. Front Porch staff check in with family for 90 days, except in special circumstances, in which case they check in with family for an extended period.
Juvenile court judge Tom Cole said he sees fewer and fewer children entering his courtroom each year, largely because The Front Porch catches them in advance.
Two-thirds of children who come to Chatham County Juvenile Court have a mental health diagnosis, 70% of which are untreated, Cole said. “It’s just overwhelming, and [The Front Porch] is a place that solves that kind of problem.
As a judge, Cole sees The Front Porch as both a juvenile delinquency prevention tool and an opportunity to change the trajectory of life. “Helping people sort things out before they get to the level we see in our court is an amazing thing. It is what should happen with every family. And unfortunately there are a lot of them in our community. for whom it is not. ”
Drew is the public health and public safety reporter for Savannah Morning News. You can reach him at AFavakeh@savannahnow.com.