Probation office gets needed help

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

LaFAYETTE — The Chambers County Juvenile Probation office is getting much-needed help but remains understaffed to handle the demands of the office.

There are currently three people involved in the program. They are Lynda Whaley, the chief juvenile probation officer; Larry “O.B.” Billingslea, a former police officer with 21 years of experience and a 10-year veteran of juvenile probation, and Kay Baker, the program manager for Chambers County Transitions.

A state grant will add a second counselor and a case manager.

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Baker said that she’s grateful for the grant, and it will help.

“It allows for a counselor who can work with our youth in homes, schools and the community,” she said. “This can help keep them at home rather in detention. The grant will allow us to have a counselor who can be in both mental health and substance abuse cases. When you can go into the home, you can see problems at the source, and that can allow you to control it better.”

Whaley said the office must use its resources efficiently concerning the office’s staff.

“The number of cases we deal with is high, and it’s hard to cover them adequately with just two probation officers,” she said. “Many counties in Alabama have more personnel than we do. We don’t even have a secretary to answer the phone.”

Baker said she appreciates having the involvement of the juvenile probation officers.

“It really helps,” she said. “It ties in with what my job is. The new counselor and case manager will help too.”

The help is much needed, based on case load alone.

“My case load is supposed to be 12,” she said. “It is much over that right now. It will be a blessing to have two more people.”

Whaley said she has a similar problem.

“The number of kids we deal with is high,” she said. “You can’t cover it with two juvenile probation officers. We are multitasking all the time. We have plenty of petitions, complaints and referrals to handle almost every day.”

Whaley said there’s no such thing as a set schedule when it comes to their job.

“We don’t know what’s coming through the door each day,” she said. “We have only two bed spaces at the Youth Detention Center in Opelika. We used to have three spaces, but it’s been cut back to two. We often have to decide what’s the lesser of two cases because of the limited bed space.”

Billingslea said their situation is unfair and the types of cases they are seeing today are different than five to 10 years ago.

“Violence is on the rise. We are seeing more assaults, physical harassment along with weapons and drug use,” Billingslea said. “Drug use among juveniles, I think, is at an all-time high. The levels of disrespect we are getting from both juveniles and their parents is much worse than it used to be. The number of cases we have in juvenile court is much higher than it used to be.”

To address this, the Juvenile Probation Office is sponsoring a substance abuse event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 16, at the Valley Community Center.

“It will be a community wide education forum on substance abuse,” Baker said. “Anyone can come and ask questions. We are hoping for a good turnout with this. It’s something people should come to. We will have some personal testimonies from people whose lives were almost destroyed by illegal drug use.”

One of the people scheduled to speak is Pam Butler, a former drug addict who’s now a state-level substance abuse specialist.

“She has a very moving personal story of how drug use stole much of her life,” Baker said. “We are trying to get the word out about this event. We’d like to have several hundred people there.”

Baker, Billingslea and Whaley all agree that there’s a significant opioid problem in Chambers County.

In some cases, young people who have been prescribed medication for conditions such as ADHD will sell it to classmates, Baker said.

“It slows them down and speeds up the kids who take the medication,” she said.

It’s not just drugs, illegal or prescribed.

“Alcohol has always been there, and we are seeing synthetic things now,” Billingslea said.

Baker said it seems like children are experimenting with different sources that will get them high. Billingslea said the office has also seen some parents doing drugs with the kids.

“We are seeing second and third generation people who are into this,” Whaley said. “Larry and I have been doing this for a long time. We are now coming across juveniles with substance abuse problems, and we can remember dealing with their parents and sometimes, grandparents.”

Billingslea said the office will gladly accept two more people in the office, but it needs more like 10 bodies.

“We also need more bed space at the Youth Detention Center,” he said. “Almost every day we have to make other arrangements because our two beds are taken up.”

Billingslea said guns are easy to come by today and it feels her office is waiting for somebody to kill somebody.

“When you mix the guns that are available with the anger so many kids have today it’s only a matter of time before people get killed,” he said.

There’s also a disturbing trend with guns. Billingslea said a person has to be 18 or 19 before they could purchase a gun and but now children in the 13 to 15 age group are obtaining guns and marijuana from somewhere.

“Society has changed,” Billingslea said. “Grandparents are raising children for many different reasons, sometimes just because the biological parents don’t want to fool with them.”

Whaley said parents or guardians have to be in their children’s business today.

“You have to see what they are looking at on their phones and to see what they are hiding underneath their mattress,” she said. “Too many parents don’t want to know, but they need to.”

Billingslea and Whaley said they have seen positive results from the transition program Baker heads.

“It allows them to stay at home rather than being institutionalized,” Whaley said. “Borderline kids can be helped. We have seen some major success stories coming out of this.”

What applies here is something as simple as the Golden Rule.

“At the end of the day it’s all about treating someone the way you’d like to be treated.”

A juvenile probation officer learns to quickly recognize when something is wrong.

“There’s a certain look on a parent’s face when they walk through the door that lets you know there’s trouble,” Billingslea said. “You are saying to yourself ‘uh-oh’ even before they speak one word. We work from one crisis to another, pretty much putting out one fire and then going to the next one.”