Hamilton County Youth Assistance Programs Set the Bar for Indiana

June 2019

Writer // Janelle Morrison          Photography // Courtesy of Carmel Youth Assistance Program

It brings me great pleasure to share with our readers the news of the recent passing of Senate Enrolled Act 596 (SEA 596) that was authored by state Sen. Victoria Spartz and sponsored in part by state Rep. Donna Schaibley in the House. SEA 596, which assists Indiana’s at-risk youth and families with wraparound services, recently passed the House of Representatives unanimously. It also allows the Indiana Supreme Court to create a two-year pilot program to assist juvenile court judges in five Indiana counties by providing voluntary preventative programs for at-risk children.

The model for SEA 596 is the existing Youth Assistance Programs (YAP) that have been established in Hamilton County (Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program), including Carmel (Carmel Youth Assistance Program). The Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program (HCYA) was developed in the fall of 2009 as a pilot program in Westfield, Indiana, under the leadership of Judge Steven Nation, Hamilton County Superior Court 1 (retired), and Judge Paul Felix, Hamilton County Circuit Court.

Hamilton County Youth Assistance Programs Set the Bar for Indiana

Currently, the Early Intervention Advocates in each community work under the appointment of Judge Paul Felix, Hamilton County Circuit Court, and Judge Michael Casati, Hamilton County Superior Court 1.

CYAP was formed in the fall of 2015 and works in collaboration with the Carmel Clay School District, City of Carmel and the Hamilton County Superior Court and provides crucial support to Carmel kids and families in need with programs such as the Carmel Summer Meals Program and CYAP.

“A great thing about this [pilot] program is that it connects at-risk youth to the existing services on a more systematic, long-term and not just ad-hoc basis,” Spartz said. “I believe we must do it and start working with these kids as early as possible. We do have some great leaders like Judge Nation, Chief Justice Rush, Justice David, Brian Payne at CICF, Dr. McCormick and the IDOE, and others committed to success and willing to take a leadership role on this issue. It’s not a question if we should do it, we MUST do it, and we MUST succeed.”

Rep. Schaibley, a Carmel resident, added, “I’ve been aware of the HCYAP for many years and have spoken with Judge Nation, Judge Felix and Mayor Cook [Westfield] many years ago about its genesis, and the success that they’ve had as far as reducing the number of children in the juvenile justice system in Hamilton County is dramatic. It is a very important thing to try and bring this to other counties and bring it statewide, and that is the genesis of SEA 596, which is modeled after the HCYAP. This is something that could be a potential game changer for so many young people and their families. Being able to intercede and get the counseling/treatment or food pantry services that they need and being able to reach out and get these kids on the right track is so important. I would love to see it be a statewide program in the next five to 10 years.”

Since they had served on one of the model programs, I asked CYAP Board President Dr. Bob Youkilis and CYAP Early Intervention Advocate Maggie Figge for their thoughts on the passing of SEA 596.

“For me, it’s the idea of permanency,” Youkilis said. “When we [CYAP] started, we said that we needed to put away a whole bunch of money just in case [funding became an issue]. If this is a state movement now, hopefully it’s not going to be that [financially] risky for other groups to get started.”

Figge added, “Hopefully it will also bring the quality of advocates up too. The right person makes a big difference in this role.”

The youth assistance programs in Hamilton County continue to serve the families as summer break has commenced, and as the city of Carmel’s population grows, so does the need among several local families. Last year, CYAP served 23,806 meals to Carmel kids. This year, at the time of publishing, CYAP is planning on providing meals to 230 out of the 1,500 kids who are on the “free and reduced lunch” program at Carmel Clay Schools. The need is real and growing.

Hamilton County Youth Assistance Programs Set the Bar for Indiana
Donations are still needed for this year’s Summer Meals Program.

CYAP is asking for the community’s help in supporting the Carmel Summer Meals Program and CYAP initiatives with your generous donations.

Figge explained, “Not only is the Carmel Summer Meals Program going to get more expensive because it is growing—we’re up 50 kids from last year [at the time of the interview in May]—but we’re finding it to be such a good outreach [program], that we’re plugging in other outreach opportunities too.”

Figge said the CYAP board and staff have been discussing hosting a day for free haircuts for kids or a coat/jacket drive before the new school year starts and the fall season begins.

“As the Mentor Program keeps growing and as word continues to spread that we have children that need mentors, we want to be able to provide funding for them to do certain activities and have a recognition program to congratulate the kids when they reach their milestones,” Youkilis said. “There really is no end to what we can do. We have the board behind us as we continue to come up with programming ideas, but we need the ongoing funding because we are going to do more with it.”

Please consider donating to the Carmel Summer Meals Program or becoming a volunteer and/or mentor with CYAP. Visit youthassistance.org/carmel/ for more information.