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New Juvenile Treatment Court to help address mental health concerns in Fayette Co.

Two Fayette Co. District judges are pulling back the curtain and working to shed light on a problem they see plaguing our youth.
Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 5:26 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - When it comes to court proceedings in Fayette County we often times see what goes on in District and Circuit court, but the public isn’t privy to what happens in juvenile court-- those proceedings there are closed.

Two Fayette Co. District judges are pulling back the curtain and working to shed light on a problem they see plaguing our youth.

They say there is a need for mental health care and it’s why they hope a new treatment court for our youth would address those concerns now, before its sets them on a potentially different path into adulthood.

Long before sitting on the bench, Judges Lindsay Thurston and Melissa Murphy saw a reason to be concerned about our youth in Lexington.

“It became apparent for me when I was working as an assistant United States attorney prosecuting crimes against children that our kids are experiencing trauma,” said Judge Thurston.

Both judges agree more and more young people who are coming before them in juvenile court have experienced what is known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs.

Things like trauma, abuse, drug use at home and even a shakeup in the family dynamic.

“What we have found here in the District Court is that these ACEs as they are called, directly impact your behavior and cause you to make poor decisions,” said Judge Thurston.

“It’s not that you are a bad child, it’s that you are trying to deal with some grown up situations and we have not given you the tools do so. So how do we do that,” said Judge Murphy.

The judges agree a focus on mental health treatment is key and they’re working to develop a new first of its Juvenile Treatment Court to focus on needs sometimes overlooked.

“It would take their cooperation and also their parent or guardian’s cooperation to commit to it, because it would be work. It is going to be considered an alternative sentencing model,” said Judge Thurston.

Judge Murphy says many times parents know help is needed, but don’t always know how to get it.

“I just think there are parents who are crying out for this and I have literally seen those tears,” said Judge Murphy.

The goal is to stop the cycle, it’s something Assistant Fayette Co. Attorney John Hayne sees a lot, young people who came up through juvenile court and now facing even more serious charges as adults.

“You can’t help but wonder what could we have done 10 years ago when these people were juveniles or kids and had services in place-would they be here now,” said Hayne.

The city of Lexington has awarded the new court $100,000 in CARES Act money to get started, which allows for a case worker to be hired. As for treatment, most children the judges say would qualify under Medicaid.

“The work that we do, this is something we have been fighting for, for years, alternatives to just locking them up, giving them opportunity so that they can learn from their mistakes and grow,” said Logan Avritt.

Avritt works with at-risk youth in Fayette Co.

This new juvenile treatment court is welcome news, he says.

He sees first hand what drugs, gun violence and losing friends can do to the youngsters he mentors and the the toll it can take mentally.

“These kids are suffering and they need as many arms around them as they can get,” said Avritt.

We sat down with 17-year-old Jocko, who is mentored by Avritt. He admits it has been a tough year, loss has been significant to him and he admits he wasn’t always on the right path.

“I’ve had bumps in the road, family dying," he said.

Avritt knows for teens like Jocko it isn’t always easy to talk about what’s happening around them.

“It’s not normal for a kid that is 14 or 15-years-old to have lost at least five close friends or relatives to violence or overdose of drugs,” said Avritt.

Jocko says he’s on a good path now. Our Amber Philpott asked him what he thought about mental health services being available to teens and if he would take the help.

“I mean if I’m getting help, I’m getting help so yeah,” said the teen.

To those behind this new juvenile treatment court, his answer is one they hope to hear.

It’s about breaking the stigma on getting help and in turn breaking a cycle that could change a life. It’s something these judges agree can’t wait any longer.

“If we could just get them to talk to somebody, if we could just get them to say hey it’s okay your mental health matters because you matter,” said Murphy.

The judges say they anticipate launching the new juvenile treatment court in early spring of 2021.

They will still need to raise additional dollars and funding to help.

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