A decade of serving DeKalb’s youth

Pictured, above, from left, are Thomas Whitten, Mark Spurlock, Andrea Parris, Judge Steven Whitmire and Jimmy Wilbanks. 

The DeKalb Youth Service Center recently completed its 10th year of service to DeKalb County.

Thomas Whitten, program director of DYSC, was the guest speaker at last week’s DeKalb County Board of Education meeting.

Whitten updated the board on services and provided information regarding the program for those in attendance.

Students are not always candidates for the program, he said. He also said some disciplinary issues are handled in house at the discretion of the school principals.

Whitten said it is up to the principals to decide what to do about disciplinary issues. He said some schools handle disciplinary issues through in-school suspension or other disciplinary measures, but that it varies from school to school.

DeKalb County Superintendent Jason Barnett attested to the program’s success rate during last week’s board meeting.

“I know that Mr. Whitten and the program work,” he said.

Barnett said the kids, whose discipline required them to go to DYSC, receive the support they needed.

“I say support because punishment isn’t always helpful,” Barnett said.

He said he has not had a student or parent who didn’t come back and say they were glad they or their child went through the program.

He said for some families, the program is useful not only for the kids but also for the family as a whole.

“They don’t just take care of the kids,” he said. “If that family needs support, they provided them with family counseling.”

He said the support is to provide that child with an opportunity to be successful.

“They do a really good job, and I am so proud of the partnership that we have,” Barnett said.

DeKalb Youth Service Center has been providing its services to youths and families in DeKalb County since the fall of 2009 when the program was established.

Whitten said Judge Steven Whitmire initiated the program through a series of meetings and facility tours from 2008 to 2009.

According to Whitten, one of the stated goals of Judge Whitmire was to “determine the unmet needs for children, youth and families in the county and work to meet them.

“The primary goal of the program is to prevent further penetration of youth into the juvenile justice system through a proactive continuum of services to strengthen the individual child and family system,” said Whitten.

Whitten said initially the program was licensed for a capacity of 15 youths and had three full-time staff.

Today, the DYSC is comprised of five employees, including a program director, case manager, teacher and therapist.

Joining their team will be Andrea Parris, a substance abuse therapist who will be working with youth from DeKalb and Cherokee Counties.

Whitten said his staff is “very passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people in DeKalb County.”

“All total, we have approximately 150 years of combined service to children and families,” he said.

The program as a whole is a partnership between the DeKalb County Juvenile Court, the DeKalb County Board of Education and the Fort Payne City School Board of Education.

The center is licensed to hold 15 students, and 15 additional students served through the Off-Campus Intervention Program.

Whitten said the program serves youth enrolled in DeKalb County and Fort Payne City schools that have juvenile charges.

“The Off-Campus Intervention Program serves students with a schedule II offense,” he said.

According to Whitten, the program operates structured, educational services focused on maintaining the students on track academically and preventing drop out.

The program uses the Compass Learning computer-based technology provided by its partnership with Fort Payne City.

“[The Compass Learning Program] allows us to match the student’s assignments as closely as possible with their regular school work,” Whitten said.

In conjunction with the Compass program, the county system allowed the purchase of 30 Chromebooks that used the computer-based learning technology provided by Fort Payne City.

Aside from their standard educational services, Whitten said the DYSC provides group counseling, individual therapy and the service spectrum and a licensed therapist provides the students with individual therapy weekly.

“The service spectrum is proactive in nature with a focus on early intervention and prevention of future issues,” Whitten said.

Whitten said the spectrum services had been expanded through grant funding to include telepsychiatry services for children and youth through a partnership with the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and psychological testing by a Ph.D. psychologist.

Among their many services, the DYSC provides substance abuse services, Whitten said.

“Services are provided through a partnership with The Bridge, Inc., and Health Connect Out-Patient Services,” he said.

Whitten said the program operates as a 501c3 public agency with primary funding through the “At-Risk” funds from the respective school systems and local support.

“The [Alabama] Department of Youth Services conducts site reviews every six months and re-certifies the program,” Whitten said.

The DeKalb Youth Service Center is located on the campus of the DeKalb County Technology Center in Rainsville, Alabama.

For additional information or services, contact DeKalb County Juvenile Court at 256-845-8573 or Thomas Whitten, program director, at 256-638-8821.

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