West Bloomfield Youth Assistance offers an alternative to court for some local children

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Stacy Panini is a social worker with West Bloomfield Youth Assistance. The WBYA provides counseling services to local youth who may have been referred by law enforcement, parents or a school.

Photo provided by Stacy Panini

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WEST BLOOMFIELD – A resource that could help shape the future of youth in the West Bloomfield area is likely not known to all residents.

The non-profit West Bloomfield Youth Assistance provides professional counseling and prevention programs for young people and their families who live in the West Bloomfield School District.

From the perspective of Stacy Panini, who is a WBYA caseworker, “youth welfare is designed as the prevention arm of the family’s division of the circuit court.”

Youth who have had issues with things such as retail fraud, assault, alcohol and drug use, as well as issues at home and / or at school, may be referred to the WBYA by schools and police, as well as parents who have concerns about a child. .

The Oakland County Family Division intake unit may divert cases when it believes youth support services are “most appropriate.”

The WBYA offers confidential counseling and guidance services to people 16 years of age and under.

Panini has been a social worker for over 20 years. She is assigned by the Family Division of Oakland County Circuit Court and has been specifically with the WBYA since 2009.

“Youth assistance, in general, wouldn’t see a child who is already in the system,” Panini said. “We try to prevent them from entering the system. Most of the kids I see have a variety of discipline issues, issues around the house or they can be what we call a prevention issue, which is an identified risk factor that makes them susceptible to some type of situation. .

Instead of being prosecuted for something like theft, children can be led away from the system by participating in youth support programs.

According to Panini, the consequences are similar to what they would be if they went to court, such as having to do community service or write a letter of apology, but without “that official court record.”

If a young person does not show up for a date with Panini, she can notify law enforcement and a decision will be made as to whether the individual will then be prosecuted.

Panini believes that keeping children out of the justice system and offering youth support as an alternative can be life changing.

“For the vast majority of the kids I see, they just need this alarm clock,” she said. “Some consequences that are firm, that are done by someone who is not emotional, who is not related to them, and who holds them accountable for their actions. It is very successful.

President Kelly Hyer discussed a benefit the WBYA can offer young people.

“Children need another adult mentor in their life besides members of their household, as well as people in the education system,” Hyer said.

Besides mentoring adults, being recognized for your volunteer contributions can also have an impact on a young person’s life.

The WBYA does this annually through the Youth Recognition Awards as part of evening programs at West Bloomfield High.

“Youth recognition is an opportunity for teachers or parents to nominate a child who has done something good,” Hyer said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t get top marks. It only matters for your volunteer efforts and what you have done to make a change to improve the West Bloomfield community. “

The WBYA is funded through support from the Township of West Bloomfield, West Bloomfield School District, Orchard Lake Village and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, as well as through fundraising and community donations, said Panini.

It all started in West Bloomfield in 1969.

West Bloomfield Police Department Deputy Chief Curt Lawson served as WBYA chairman from 2018 to 2019. He is currently the organization’s vice chairman.

“West Bloomfield Youth Assistance is run by a dedicated group of 14 people who volunteer to benefit the children of the greater West Bloomfield area,” Lawson wrote via email. “As Deputy Head, I have seen firsthand how youth support can make a difference in a child’s life. It has been a collaborative effort of our school district, township government, Orchard Lake government and our residents who donate funds for programs that are truly making a difference here in our community.

Panini, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology and a master’s degree in public administration, typically sees children for six months or less, but may have cases that last up to a year or two.

His discussions with young people may include topics such as behavior changes, identifying risky behaviors, and discussing ways to determine positive decision-making.

Before COVID, Panini’s dates were held in an office at West Bloomfield High School. However, she is now speaking to the children via Zoom.

In her role as social worker, one of Panini’s biggest challenges is to get young people to open up.

“Some of these children are damaged,” she said. “So building that trust and allowing them to see you as an advocate for them or someone who believes in them and cares about them is a huge hurdle that you have to overcome. But for me, once I get over that hurdle, I feel like it’s the greatest satisfaction to know that you are making a difference in their life.

For more information, visit wbyyouthassistance.org or call (248) 592-1278.

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