PAULDING – Paulding County Juvenile Court Judge Michael Wehrkamp announced the Juvenile Court has been awarded a two-year, $300,000 Competitive RECLAIM grant by the Ohio Department of Youth Services. The new funds will support the development of the county’s first community- based youth assessment and evening reporting center.

“There is a movement in juvenile justice to be more proactive and less reactive. My desire is for Paulding County to be at the forefront of that movement and this grant will help get us there,” Judge Wehrkamp said. “The assessment center will allow us to assess unruly behavior and determine the most appropriate intervention for the child and family with the goal of avoiding more serious, delinquent behavior in the future.”

The center will serve as an integral part of the juvenile probation transformation initiative that will allow youth to be served in the least restrictive setting and give the community the ability to intervene earlier when problem behaviors arise, all while ensuring public safety.

“When a child commits an unruly or delinquent act, we must ask, ‘Why did the child behave this way?’,” said Court Administrator Elizabeth Zartman. “All too often, the behavior is the product of an untreated mental or behavioral health issue, or inadequate supports for the family. The assessment center will serve as a one-stop shop to identify those issues earlier, linking youth and families with community resources they need before the problems become more serious.”

The assessment center is slated to be housed on Paulding’s courthouse square in the second-floor space above the Paulding County Board of Elections and Small Business Innovation Center. Melinda Wenzlick has been selected to serve as the director of the center. Prior to accepting this position, Wenzlick administered the Youth Assistance Program for the area Department of Job and Family Services, and she holds her bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I could not be more excited to join the Court’s team and begin work with our community partners to get the assessment center up and running,” said Wenzlick. “The sky is the limit on the positive impact the center can have on the young people of our county and their families.”

Once opened, assessment center staff will administer a series of evidence-based assessments and screenings on a youth to determine needs of the individual and his or her family, including whether the youth should be diverted from formal court involvement. If that determination is made, the youth and family may then be referred to a number of community partners who are able to offer services and supports. The assessments and screenings will also help ensure interventions—ranging from secure detention to weekly appointments with staff—are selected with objectivity and consistency.

“Having the funds to create an assessment center could be transformational for Paulding County,” said Judge Wehrkamp. “This grant is the product of a true team effort, and I could not be more appreciative of my staff, our volunteers, and our collaborating partners who are all putting their hearts into making this center a reality for our community.”

The grant-writing team consisted of Zartman, community-minded volunteer and retired school administrator Pat Ross, and Judge Wehrkamp.

Collaborating partners for the Competitive RECLAIM grant include: Paulding County Prosecutor’s Office, Paulding County Sheriff’s Office, Tri-County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, Westwood Behavioral Health Center, Inc., Antwerp Local Schools, Paulding Exempted Village Schools, Wayne Trace Local Schools, Western Buckeye Educational Service Center, Northwest State Community College, Defiance-Paulding Consolidated Department of Job and Family Services, Family and Children First Council, Paulding County Commissioners, Paulding County Economic Development, Inc., United Way of Paulding County, Paulding County Area Foundation, Paulding County OSU Extension, Youth for Christ, and Paulding County Health Department.

RECLAIM stands for Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to the Incarceration of Minors.