Christian County Diversion Court

DIVERSION COURT - Christian County Circuit Judge Laura Johnson (left) and Associate Judge Jessica Kruse (right) discuss the launch of the Christian County Diversion Court program for potentially at-risk teens at an Ozark Board of Education meeting Aug. 29.

The Circuit Court of Christian County, 38th Judicial Circuit, will implement a new program this fall aimed to help students struggling in school and life.

These students may be headed down a path with the potential for lifelong consequences.   

The program, called Christian County Diversion Court, is a collaborative effort with the circuit court, the Christian County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Christian County Juvenile Office and the Ozark School District to provide additional support, interventions and accountability to families and to help at-risk students succeed. The Christian County Commission approved the program Aug. 26.

Circuit Judge Laura Johnson said the purpose of diversion court is to identify at-risk students prior to possible referral to the juvenile court system and divert them into a voluntary program where both the students and their families receive extra support to help build their academic potential.

“Every school district has a number of students who struggle in school primarily because of poor attendance. While schools can identify those students and encourage attendance, they have little or no ability to force attendance if the family does not cooperate,” Johnson said. “This program provides the ‘teeth,’ so to speak, to require a student and family to attend school and complete school assignments.”

The Ozark School District will refer students to diversion court through a process based on multiple factors including, but not limited to, repeated tardiness or absences, difficulty keeping up in class, disciplinary actions resulting in out-of-school suspensions or other issues making it difficult for students to be successful in school.

“The purpose of the program is to provide positive support for these families to encourage a change in behavior, but there are actions that may be taken by the juvenile office and the prosecuting attorney's office if diversion court fails to correct the problem,” Johnson said. “It will help school districts solve the intractable problem of continuing truancy in some families.”

Once selected, students and their parents or guardians begin a four-phase program through the Circuit Court of Christian County. 

Within each phase, the family will meet with Associate Circuit Judge Jessica Kruse bimonthly to create and track individual family goals and support systems. At each session, Kruse and the diversion court team will monitor the student’s progress and set reasonable expectations for the student to accomplish before the next session. In order to graduate from the program, the student will have to achieve near-perfect attendance, be caught up on assignments and make acceptable academic progress.

Participants will also be expected to participate in after-school structured work time, and families will be provided with resources, such as counseling, when needed. The Christian County Juvenile Office will employ a juvenile officer in the Ozark School District, whose pay is funded by the school, to work closely with the students and families, assisting in identifying and meeting their specific needs and helping them all succeed. The juvenile officer will continue to monitor the student’s progress after graduation from the program.

“The support this program will provide to the family unit will bring real change,” said Ozark School District Superintendent Chris Bauman. “The power of this program to heal the family is unprecedented and we could not be more excited for this partnership.” 

The program is modeled after Jasper County Achievement Court. A team from the Circuit Court of Christian County and the Ozark School District visited Jasper County last spring to learn how its program is supporting families and helping students. 

“I enjoyed seeing the pride on the participants’ faces when they graduated from the program,” Kruse said about Jasper County Achievement Court. “You could tell their entire family was able to experience a feeling of accomplishment and had a sense of hope for the future. I am excited to see what this program can bring to the students in Ozark.” 

The program will begin with five students this fall. It is designed to accommodate up to 25-30 at any given time. 

“We hope to be able to eventually offer this program to all the school districts in the county that are interested in participating,” Johnson said.

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