BELLEVILLE — Court cases involving children will be handled by a new team at the St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly created the Children's Justice Division, headed by assistant state's attorney and new mother Anna Young.
The division will handle child support matters, juvenile abuse and neglect cases, juvenile delinquency, truancy and adult criminal cases where children are victims.
The goal, according to Young and Kelly, is to keep kids who are already in the court system from ending up as adult felons.
"I think that there are multiple opportunities for the system to intervene and to pull these kids off the St. Clair County felony factory line," Kelly said. "It may give the kid a chance to down a different path."
One child may be victim in the prosecution of their abuser. They may also be represented by the state's attorney's office in a juvenile courtroom where their custody is being decided by a different judge in a different courtroom with a different state's attorney.
The Children's Justice Division was established at the recommendation of the Juvenile Justice Council that connections community organizations that provide services to youth, such as social services agencies, churches, drug and alcohol treatment providers and school, law enforcement and juvenile probation.
"This approach brings together all things kids," Young said. "It allows prosecutors and the court to make the maximum use of resources out there and help a child."
A prosecutor can ask a juvenile judge to order a child facing a delinquency petition to be sentenced to an after-school program or drug rehabilitation program, Young said.
Cooperation between child support can insure the child has the financial resources and access to insurance that may allow early intervention in drug, alcohol or mental health cases, Kelly said.
"By improving communication and coordination in the handling of children's issues, prosecutors are better equipped to creatively and effective make positive change in the lives of children in St. Clair County," Young said.
As part of those changes, Kelly asked police to call the Department of Children and Family Services hotline if they had a crime scene where children may be involved -- even if they weren't present at the moment.
When a Police Department busted a meth lab in the morning, Young said, no one would take into account that children would be getting off the bus from school to that house in the afternoon. Police are now asked to look for evidence of children and call the hotline if they find any.
Prosecutors also now attend every interview of a child at Child Advocacy Center to ensure legal elements of the crime are covered, Young said.
Young became a mother 5 months ago. And motherhood brought a new understanding.
"I guess I understood how helpless a small child is. I appreciate even more the responsibility that we adults have with respect to children," she said.
While helping a child is rewarding, Kelly said he hopes that by bringing all the allies together to coordinate and collaborate on juvenile cases it may have a bigger impact on crime in the county on a long term basis.
"When you go to a hospital maternity ward, none of them have guns in their hands. None of them have drugs. They aren't born felons," Kelly said. "We hope that by getting the right resources to the right child at the right time, we can slow crime."