Latest News from Hamilton County Juvenile Court
Hamilton County Help Center Expanding Services to Include Juvenile Court Custody Cases
Many people lack the means to afford legal representation in Court. Advice and guidance from an attorney can make a huge difference in the outcome of a case, especially for children whose parents are involved in a custody situation.
Of the nearly 20,000 cases filed in Juvenile Court in 2022, more than two-thirds involved a child support or custody issue.
A collaboration between the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and UC Law School is expanding to include local parties involved in custody and support cases, such as shared parenting, shared custody and changes in sole custody, in Hamilton County Juvenile Court (HCJC).
The collaborative resource, The Hamilton County Help Center, is located in the Hamilton County Courthouse. Two attorneys, employed by UC Law, two paralegals employed by the Clerk of Courts, and UC Law student interns, currently provide low-income residents with free education, information, and limited advice pertinent to legal issues in Municipal Court involving housing, debt collection, small claims, and judgment collection.
An additional attorney, also employed by UC Law, is now located on the first floor of HCJC. Hope Finney joined the Help Center in late August as a full-time attorney to assist parents with child custody cases.
“I am honored and proud to take on this new role, assisting children and families in the community where I grew up,” said Finney. “What could be more important than working to ensure that children are well cared for, happy and safe?”
Finney earned her law degree from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in 2020. Her professional experience includes working for the Ohio Unemployment Compensation Review Commission, Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center.
“Unlike the other cases we hear in Juvenile Court, parties to private custody cases do not have a Constitutional right to an attorney,” said Administrative Judge Kari Bloom. “People are allowed to hire an attorney, but there are lots of reasons that they don’t. The lack of legal assistance can hurt children because the cases often become complicated, take longer to resolve, and give an unfair advantage to one party over another. Hope’s job is to work with the parties to make sure the child or children come first.”
“The University of Cincinnati College of Law is excited to be part of the expansion of the Clerk of Courts Help Center to the Juvenile Court,” said Haider Ala Hamoudi, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law. “From its inception, the Help Center has been a wonderful collaboration between UC Law and the Clerk’s Office. In giving our students the opportunity to assist families who appear before the court, the Help Center allows UC Law to advance our mission of educating and inspiring lawyers who pursue justice and advance the role of law in society.”
Clerk of Courts Pavan Parikh said, “The Help Center has provided an invaluable service to the community over its first six years of existence, and we are pleased to be able to expand these services to Juvenile Court, which will enable us to assist even more people in Hamilton County. The legal system can be intimidating, and Hope will provide families with education, information and limited legal advice to empower families navigating the complicated custody court processes.”
The Help Center is located at the Hamilton County Courthouse, 1000 Main St. Room 113, 513-946-5650. The satellite office for custody issues is located inside Hamilton County Juvenile Court, 800 Broadway, first floor, 513-946-9442.
Youth Center High School Graduation
When circumstances lead a child to our Youth Detention Center, it’s a near certainty that they’ve already faced a multitude of challenges in their short lives. While detained, they have the opportunity to overcome at least one of those challenges; full participation in their education.
On Aug. 29, for the first time since COVID, the Youth Center celebrated an in-person high school graduation for one of our young men. Surrounded by his teachers, staff, family, and friends, he received his diploma from Cincinnati Public Schools. His teachers lauded his hard work, positive attitude, and leadership in the classroom.
His English teacher described him as “emotionally resilient and a life-long learner.” Several teachers talked about his leadership in the classroom, helping new students and acting as an aide in the classroom to support his teachers and fellow students.
The young man expressed thanks to all who supported him. “At the rate I was going, I didn’t think I was going to make it to 18. I’m so happy to make it to 18, I’m so happy to graduate from high school, even though I am in this situation.” He also shared the mantra of his Youth Center pod: “When you change your mind, you change your life.”
Despite personal hurdles and life-changing choices that often lead to incarceration, the youth at the detention center are children, hungry for knowledge. They’re a captive audience of students who attend classes every day during their placement at the Youth Center. The result for many of them often leads to graduation, with new skills and confidence to carry them forward.
Thank you to all Youth Center teachers and staff who made this life-changing moment happen for this young man and his family. We look forward to celebrating more graduation ceremonies in the future.
A Thank You for Serving Immigrant Children
Hamilton County Juvenile Court works with immigration attorneys to ensure that court hearings for children petitioning for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) are completed in a timely and professional manner.
SIJS is an immigration classification available to certain undocumented immigrants under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. The classification allows them to apply for and obtain legal permanent residence in the United States.
Since tracking began in May 2022, HCJC has had 383 SIJS filings, some for more than one child.
The children presented beautiful arts and crafts as a thank you for the attorneys and Court staff that assisted them with the process of filing and acquiring their SIJS status.
Power & Pride of Philanthropy for Kids in the HCJC Youth Center
Imagine never being asked your opinion, or what you care about, or feeling trusted. That’s often the situation children find themselves in, especially children who, for a variety of reasons, end up in the juvenile justice system.
Magnified Giving is a Cincinnati non-profit dedicated to creating opportunities for all children to be heard, empowered, and trusted to act, including children currently housed in the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Youth Detention Center.
“We are a small non-profit with a very understanding and creative Board,” says Kelly Collison, CEO of Magnified Giving. “They want more youth to use their gifts and talents to become engaged in the joy of giving, no matter where they’re coming from.”
Magnified Giving has a strong and unique partnership with Youth Center art teacher Penny Harris and her students, all of whom are facing delinquency charges. With support from Magnified Giving, Ms. Harris’s art students create art and donate grant funding to local non-profits.
“I have our kids pick causes they are interested in like poverty, women, children,” says Harris. “I gather up information on non-profits that focus on their interests and we start dissecting them. Once an organization is selected by the kids, we go to work creating art for them.”
Just like most high school kids, the children at the Youth Center are required to do community service in order to graduate from high school, 120 hours for Cincinnati Public School graduates. When students are limited by their circumstances, it’s tough to find service opportunities.
Youth Center students cannot go to the non-profit to serve, so with the help of Magnified Giving, the opportunity to serve comes to them.
“Penny is fabulous when it comes to the creativity she uses to overcome restrictions,” says Collison. “We never tell her, we can’t do this. We consider the barriers, focus on the end goal and identify the small hurdles we need to jump over to make our program work for her kids.”
Youth Center students are currently making centerpieces out of old books for a fundraising gala and painting Free Little Libraries for Queen City Book Bank. They’re also working with HER Cincinnati to create large female empowerment paintings for the Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing to women experiencing chronic homelessness.
Along with the hands on work the kids do, the partnership with Magnified Giving also gives our students the responsibility to award non-profits $1,000 grants.
“We want the kids to know you don’t have to be old and rich to be a philanthropist,” said Collison. “Allowing kids to explore organizations and trusting them to decide how to allocate funds builds confidence and leadership skills, along with the satisfaction and positive feelings that come with doing good for and with others. These are life lessons and experiences that kids carry into their future lives.”
“By participating in the Magnified Giving program, the youth are being given a chance to explore their communities, the challenges being faced, and the resources available to provide direct support when they are in need,” says Alison Kaufman, director of programs for Magnified Giving. “It is important to give them this opportunity because when they rejoin the community they are now armed with the knowledge that they have time, talent, and treasure to be a positive contributing member.”
To date, Youth Center students have made $9,000 in Magnified Giving grants. In addition to Queen City Book Bank and HER Cincinnati, recipients include the Children’s Law Center, Ohio Innocence Project, Girls on the Run, and Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati.
Ms. Harris says her students create projects for every organization that they consider for funding. They’ve made items such as placemats, bookmarks, and pet toys, for groups. Magnified Giving also helps fundraise for supplies needed to create these projects inside Ms. Harris’s art room.
Research shows that participating in service programs has a positive impact on teen’s mental health, makes them more responsible and boosts their self-esteem. The Court is grateful for the tremendous opportunity Magnified Giving provides our kids and looks forward to exploring expanding our partnership to include young people who are part of our probation and diversion programs.
Hillcrest Listening Session Feedback
UPDATE: As of September, 2023, the Court is finalizing the RFP to submit to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, The Court will publicly share the RFP when it is approved and issued. Thanks to the community for your continued support for this important project.
More than 60 community members, in person and on Zoom, joined Hamilton County Juvenile Court judges and staff for the Court’s first ever public listening session. The purpose was to get community feedback as the Court prepares to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) on the Hillcrest Academy site. Since 1976, the county-owned site has been operated as an educational and residential treatment facility for Court-involved youth.
The property sits on just over 88 acres on Bonham Road, which runs off Galbraith Road in Wyoming. It includes 12 residential cottages, dining hall, school, gymnasium and pool, chapel as well as an administration and mechanical & maintenance buildings. The Hillcrest site has been in constant use as a school and residential facility for delinquent and dependent children since 1914.
Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrator Liz Igoe opened the session with an overview of the current status of the property and shared the Court’s three top priorities for the next provider: continuing to provide education through the on-site school, providing children with trauma-informed therapy, and offering a transition plan for children upon release.
The Court’s plan is to submit the draft RFP to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office for review in fall 2023, and issue the RFP shortly thereafter. The goal is to identify the next provider by early 2024. All providers, either as sole entities or in partnership with other organizations that can run different parts of the program, are encouraged to submit a proposal. The Court’s goal is to create the best possible education and residential treatment program in the country.
To read a recap of the broad themes and find answers to questions posed at the listening session, click here. If you have additional questions please email us at Hillcrestfeedback@juvcourt.hamilton-co.org.
Youth Center Spoken Word Poetry Jam
“Right now, I been makin plans to keep you proud
My future gon be better, I can see it in me now.”
Words of hope from a young poet, currently being held at the Hamilton County Youth Detention Center.
She is one of 15 Youth Center residents to read their original work at the first Youth Center “Spoken Word Poetry Jam” on July 19. In addition to the youth poets, six staff members shared their poetry. Pearl Anderson, who oversees administrative operations and volunteer programs at the Youth Center organized the event with support from Youth Center staff.
Also presenting was guest speaker, poet and author, Edwin “Orlando” Swan, who shared passages from his book, “Introduction to Orlando 101 Soul Edition.”
The heartfelt, original works performed by the children and staff, moved the audience, which included parents, HCJC staff and friends of the Court, to tears. Members of the Youth Center’s Youth Council scored the participants work and awarded E.W. first place for her poem, “Dear Ma.” We are proud and to share, with permission, the full poem below.
I’m walkin on my own now
I know it took me a minute
But it’s fasho u raised a strong child
You told me ima end up dead if I keep hangin with the wrong crowd
It’s crazy iant dead but iah be gone for a long while
You said it hurt you deeply when u got that call
Answer the phone, I’m sorry momma but I can’t come home
My uncle gone
And things won’t get no better
Even through weakest moments
My love for you will last forever
See I was broke down wit trauma
But I’m doin better now
You always showed us you was strong
When daddy tried to beat you down
You always told us when u leave
We gotta learn to take control
You always said that we yo better half
Without us, you ain’t whole
So now I know all the pain and suffer u went through
All the women in the world, it ain’t another one like you
You our hero
A heck of a woman
And I just wanna say I’m sorry that I said you was nothin
And I just wanna say I’m sorry that I ever said I hate you
You the only mother that I have, I can’t replace u
Right now, I been makin plans to keep you proud
My future gon be better, I can see it in me now
Thanks to you, I’m finished wit my baby steps
I’m walking on my own
When I was lost, u helped me make it back
And I have pride that you’re my mom
Ima do what I’m supposed to do
And here’s my strongest words, Dear momma, I love you
HCJC to Host Public Input Session on the Future of Hillcrest Academy
Hamilton County Juvenile Court (HCJC) will host a public meeting on Tuesday July 25 from 6pm to 8pm regarding the future of Hillcrest Academy. If you can’t attend in person, please joins us via Zoom. Just click this Zoom link and enter 087651 for the password.
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend this public input session at the Health United Building (HUB), located on the Xavier University campus, 1723 Cleneay Ave Norwood, OH 45212. The HUB is handicap accessible with elevators to the fourth floor. It is across the street from the Cintas Center, where guests may park for free. Please do not park at University Station at the corner of Montgomery Road and Cleneay Avenue.
HCJC is preparing to issue Requests for Proposals (RFP) to identify a new provider for Hillcrest, a residential treatment program licensed by the Ohio Department of Family Services and owned by Hamilton County. Since 2012, Hillcrest has been run by a private operator, Rite of Passage (ROP).
“For decades, Hillcrest has played a critical role supporting and rehabilitating youth who have been found delinquent by our Court,” said Liz Igoe, HCJC Administrator. “As we draft our RFP to identify potential operators to partner with us, we want to share our goals with the community and get their feedback on how we can better serve children and families.”
Hillcrest, located at 246 Bonham Road, has been a county entity since the 1930s and HCJC assumed authority of Hillcrest in the late 1970s. Prior to ROP, it was operated by the Court.
Youth Court Keeps Kids Out of the System
A young respondent wipes away tears as her law student advocate recounted an incident in school that resulted in a fight. The advocate was speaking to a jury of the respondent’s peers, other Hamilton County high school students.
Pictured: Zainab Raza, law student & Youth Court intern, Danielle Johnson, law student, Caitlin Burgess, Youth Court Co-Coordinator, Karinne Hill, attorney judge, Lydia Ansermet, Youth Court Co-Coordinator, Jenna Heaphy, attorney judge, Kristen Pierce, law student
Welcome to Youth Court, a project started by the Cincinnati Academy of Leadership for Lawyers in coordination with Hamilton County Juvenile Court. Youth Court is now supported and funded by the Cincinnati Bar Foundation’s Judge Julia A. Stautberg Justice Fund. The program is for first-time, low-level offenders and grounded in the premise that positive peer interaction is much more effective than a lecture from a parent or judge.
“The general criteria for referring cases to Youth Court is first offense misdemeanors that are non-violent,” said Youth Court Co-Coordinator Caitlin Burgess. “The respondents are at least 14 years old, since it is a peer-to-peer model, and all of our jurors are high school students. Juvenile Court staff look through the unofficial cases and flags appropriate ones our way for consideration.”
Local lawyers serve as judge; law students as prosecutors, defense counsel and bailiffs; and high school students are jurors. With the exception of an intern paid for by the University of Cincinnati, all volunteer their time. Before proceedings begin, everyone is sworn in and promises to keep the proceedings confidential.
In Court, the prosecutor presents the facts of the case and recommends a sanction. The respondent’s defense counsel responds and offers his or her client and family the opportunity to speak to the Court. After that, jurors may ask questions. When statements and questions are complete, everyone but the Judge and jurors are escorted out of the courtroom so the jury may deliberate.
“It seems like she generally regrets her actions,” says one of the jurors during deliberations. All jurors agree that a written reflection, as recommended by the prosecutor, is an appropriate sanction. Sanctions are decided from a variety of options including a reflection paper, community service, chores, and a finding of admonished, which means the jurors feel that the youth has been appropriately dealt with by his or her parents or guardians.
Respondent, attorneys and family re-enter the courtroom. The jury’s foreperson speaks, “We the jury sanction you to a written reflection on the topic of alternative methods to deal with this situation, a page in length. And we also want to say we understand that you may have felt like you had to do that but in the future it’s important to think about ways to de-escalate the situation before it gets there.”
The judge proclaims, “the jury has spoken and the sanctions are final.” The young respondent confers with her attorney on next steps and leaves Court with a sanction, but no official record. But there’s a chance that respondents may be back to Youth Court, next time as a juror, helping other kids stay out of the system.
Celebrating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
June is Pride month nationally and here in Cincinnati on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Pride celebrates and supports LGBTQIA+ people and their historic struggle for acceptance and freedom to be themselves. Pride celebrations also recognize the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.
As a Court, justice and equality are the foundation of everything we do. Several Juvenile Court representatives were on hand for a flag raising on June 1 outside the Hamilton County Courthouse. Judge Kari Bloom joined Hamilton County Commissioners Alicia Reece, Denise Driehaus, and Stephanie Summerow Dumas, along with Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey, and several others for the event.
Judge Bloom also sent this message to members of the Juvenile Court staff: “Together, it is our job to create an environment where all feel welcome and heard. We must represent all the people we serve, including diversity of gender, race, sexuality, creed, nationality, experiences, and thought. Each of you belong here. It is important to me and to Judge DeGraffenreid that you feel safe, respected and valued for who you are and what you do.”
Hamilton County Juvenile Court supports all children. Here are some local resources for LGBTQ children and their families in our area.
Judge Bloom Honors High School Heroes
On April 20, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Kari Bloom was the keynote speaker at the Woodward Career Technical High School Career Tech Graduation. She also had the honor of presenting two members of the class a special award for their bravery.
Jaileyana Fraley and Lagena Johnson completed their certification in Woodward’s health tech program. Two months before graduation, they voluntarily put their skills to the test and saved a life.
One of their fellow students was shot at an apartment complex near the school’s campus in February. He was able to get to the school to seek help. Fortunately, Jaileyana and Lagena were on site, taking part in “Sticks 4 Kicks,” a part of their program that allows for real-life experience in a simulated clinical setting.
The girls tended to the wound of their fellow student until assistance arrived.
“Jaileyana and Lagena sprang into action, without hesitation, without a second thought and administered lifesaving efforts for a friend,” said Judge Bloom “They were calm, they were caring, they were ready. They made a difference.”
In addition to presenting the students with an award for bravery, Judge Bloom also gave them a financial award for books as both move on to continue their education.
Address Child Abuse Before Victims End Up in Court
It’s a heartbreaking and consistent reality. Many abused and neglected children go unnoticed until they themselves act out and come to the Juvenile Court. Numerous studies link early child abuse and neglect to later involvement in the juvenile justice system. That means it’s when they’re sitting in a courtroom like mine that children are asked, often for the first time, about abuse.
Too often, we are using a child’s delinquent and criminal behavior to finally address the impact of child abuse. It must, for every single child, begin sooner.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month. Last year alone, Hamilton County Jobs & Family Services, reports serving more than 24,000 children and families and answering more than 51,000 hotline calls. In Hamilton County Juvenile Court, we heard just over 1,300 cases of abuse, neglect or dependency.
Pet Therapy = Unconditional Love
We are excited to welcome two new therapists to our team at Hamilton County Juvenile Court (HCJC). Winston and Amelia are with “Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy.”
Amelia, who is pictured here at the Youth Center, is a five-year-old Golden Retriever. Winston is also a Golden Retriever who is just a year and a half. With support from “Best Friends” trainer/handler Sarah Leonard, Winston and/or Amelia are at the Youth Center two days a week, spreading their non-judgmental love.
“We are always looking for ways to reduce stress and address trauma for our kids,” said HCJC Judge Kari Bloom. “Winston and Amelia provide comfort that the kids in our care need and can’t get anywhere else. Our kids come from all different backgrounds, and for some, it’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to pet a dog and experience their unconditional acceptance and support.”
We’re grateful to have these four-legged therapists on our team and look forward to seeing the impact they will have.
HCJC Employees Get Creative for Black History Month
In celebration of Black History Month, Hamilton County Juvenile Court employees came together to paint a mural that now hangs at the check in desk on the first floor of our building at 800 Broadway. The Court worked with local Black-owned business Soul Palette to create a multicultural design with children as a focus. “We wanted to put a lot of kids in the image and positive messaging like our future, children matter, and resilience, so people would know exactly what you are about,” said Brandon Hawkins, co-owner of Soul Palette, along with his wife Niki. Employees painted small pieces or sections of the mural, guided by Hawkins. The result is a bright, colorful, image of diverse children in front of the downtown Cincinnati skyline. A second mural was designed for the Court’s Youth Center at 2020 Auburn Ave. Students at the Youth Center will paint the mural this month, with guidance from art teacher Penny Harris.