EDWARDSVILLE - Prosecutions involving children will now be coordinated in a special division of the Madison County state's attorney's office.
State's Attorney Tom Gibbons has created a special Children's Justice Division to coordinate felony and misdemeanor cases involving juvenile delinquency, abuse and neglect and child support enforcement cases. It will be headed by Assistant State's Attorney Amy Gabriel, after the promotion of Jennifer Vucich to first assistant state's attorney.
"This encompasses every part of what my office does that has an impact on a minor child," Gibbons said. "The welfare of our children should be the highest of priorities. Children often have contact with the justice system on many levels, and cases involving children are often quite complex ... I want to make certain that my prosecutors are working together and maximizing our resources at every level to achieve the best possible outcomes."
Gibbons said he thought it would be more efficient to combine the resources of prosecutors working in separate divisions under one department. For example, a child may be simultaneously the subject of a child support case and a neglect case, or someone may be telling a different story in an abuse case than in a juvenile delinquency case.
"Until everyone was in the same room, no one had the whole picture of what was going on," Gibbons said.
Eleven prosecutors will work in the division. Gibbons said it is not a unique project for Madison County; St. Clair County has something similar, and other counties have attempted something like it. Madison County created a "veterans court" a few years ago with a similar concept, to connect services for veterans with those being caught up in the legal system, to avoid letting people fall through the cracks.
The division also will coordinate with the state Division of Child Support Enforcement. "(Child support is) one of the fundamental building blocks of trying to make a kid's life better, making sure someone is taking responsibility for his support," Gibbons said. "An unstable financial situation leads to an unstable home, and an unstable school situation."
Gibbons said his office has increased the number of child support cases with active court orders over the last several years to 87.24 percent, above the state average by 6 percent. "Active court orders" are cases where child support has been established and is being paid, he said.
The division also will coordinate with the U.S. Attorney's office and the Child Advocacy Center. "Although our cases may be different, by working together we're able to find a commonality in our approach that allows us to be more proactive and effective when dealing with cases involving children," Gabriel said.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2507.