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Jackson approves juvenile crime prevention funding plan

Hawthorn Heights is located in Bryson City but provides services to all seven Western North Carolina counties. Hawthorn Heights is located in Bryson City but provides services to all seven Western North Carolina counties. Hawthorn Heights photo

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“So far this year, we’ve served eight Jackson County youth,” said Hawthorn Heights executive director Kara Long in a presentation to the Jackson County Commission on May 2. “I will tell you, referrals are very high for our services. Last calendar year we received 277 referrals to place youth in our program that needed a safe and therapeutic place to go. We are only a nine-bed facility, so accommodating that demand is very challenging, very tough; there is no way we can do that realistically.”

Today, Hawthorn Heights is a shelter for kids in need of a safe place to stay. The home is utilized by juvenile court counselors in Jackson County, as well as the six other westernmost counties. Youth usually get referred to Hawthorn Heights when they are entering the juvenile justice system for the first time.

“Maybe they are truant, maybe they have a substance use charge, they’re starting to dabble with some substance use issues, undisciplined or ungovernable behavior, running away, sneaking out at night, those types of things,” said Long. “Typically our service is used for a place for children  to come into our care, get some wrap-around services and support for the family and hopefully avoid them penetrating further into the juvenile justice system and ending up in detention.”

Hawthorn Heights partners with HIGHTS, referring youth there for substance use therapy. HIGHTS also offers outpatient therapy for children who need it that don’t already have access to a therapist.

“When we have a child in our care, we want to make sure that their health overall is cared for; we’re taking a look at everything,” said Long. “So often, children come in, they haven’t seen a dentist in several years, they haven’t been to a doctor, they may need eye glasses, so we’re taking them to medical appointments and therapy appointments and working with the schools to get them on track educationally. So our hope is to provide enough wrap-around services around that child and the family so that when they transition back home, they’re successful in the home.”

This year, Hawthorn Heights has provided 385 days of care for Jackson County youth, meaning 385 combined days in which youth are staying at the facility and being cared for.

“I point that out because as far as diversion from actual incarceration, if we were just looking at the numbers themselves, those 380 days next year will represent over $50,000 of diversion, just diversion,” said Adams. “So obviously we want success rates and not coming back into the system, but the reality is financially, if you were to just look at the financial side of things, that diversion actually could pay for this entire program. More than this entire program.”

The county commission approved the funding plan unanimously.

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