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Bill Wilson Center opens new program for youth with sexual behavior problems

Bill Wilson Center opens new program for youth with sexual behavior problems

Bill Wilson Center opens new program for youngest sex offenders
By Mark Gomez
Posted: 10/08/2010 07:04:32 PM PDT
Updated: 10/10/2010 09:46:11 PM PDT

When three foster children spent five days in juvenile hall in 2009 on suspicion of molesting their younger sibling, the jailing sparked an outcry from public leaders and cast a spotlight on the lack of court-approved options for very young offenders in Santa Clara County.

Looking to bridge the gap in services, the nonprofit Bill Wilson Center in San Jose developed a community-based program to treat young sex offenders, considered the most difficult to house given the nature of their crimes and their need for intensive treatment.

Officials at the Bill Wilson Center hope the program will eliminate the need for youths 14 and younger suspected of committing certain offenses from being locked up in juvenile hall or sent to facilities outside of Santa Clara County. The center launched the Services for Children with Sexual Behavior Problems program in September with three 13-year-old boys.

Santa Clara County's philosophy is "that most kids of that age who are charged with that kind of behavior are in need of therapy, counseling, redirection in their lives. They're not in need of "... incarceration," Supervisor Dave Cortese said. He said any alternative placement program was "desperately needed."

Cortese held public hearings following last year's jailing of three foster children, ages 10, 11 and 12. The hearings, and a subsequent report from the Superior Court's Juvenile Justice Commission, led to an unprecedented local policy that limits juvenile hall admission to children 13 years and older.

The new program targets children between the ages of 10 and 14 whose sex crimes are considered behavioral problems as opposed to violent, aggressive acts.

"There is a lot of fear around a youth who commits a sex offense," said Robert DeJesus, a probation manager for the Santa Clara County Probation Department.

He added that young offenders are not the "monsters that everyone has been fearing."

Lorraine Flores, associate director of the Bill Wilson Center, said the young children eligible for the program may have participated in some form of incest or may have been sexually abused themselves and are now acting it out on with a sibling or neighbor.

"We want to target the younger sexual offender who has the ability to develop some kind of insight and skill set to hopefully turn around any continued sexual offenses," Flores said.

Previously, some young sex offenders were removed from their homes and sent to Stanislaus, Sacramento and Riverside counties for treatment, according to the probation department. Often, young offenders who commit the acts on a sibling or neighbor can't return home until receiving therapy and treatment. Some of the out-of-county residential programs can last up to 18 months.

"This is the population where the offender can't go back home because the victim is nearby," DeJesus said. "During the treatment phase, the utmost concern is the safety of the victim."

The county also relies on a number of psychologists and psychiatrists to provide treatment on an outpatient basis for juvenile sex offenders who are allowed to remain at home.

The probation department could not provide recent annual statistics regarding the number of juveniles who commit sex offenses, or the number of offenders sent out of county for treatment. (Teens who have consensual sex and are cited would not go through juvenile probation.) However, the entire load of about 25 to 30 cases is handled by one probation officer, DeJesus said.

He cites studies that indicate a recidivism rate of less than 7 percent among juveniles who receive treatment for sex offenses.

To get the program started, the Bill Wilson Center hired a full-time therapist who specializes in sexual trauma and sexual behavior in adolescence.

The therapist assesses children and determines a treatment and safety plan with the family, school and other support systems, Flores said. The treatment plan would likely include individual, family and group therapy.

The goal is to help the youth make better choices, develop concepts of empathy, address anger management and deal with what the harmful behavior has done to the victim and to the community.

Although the sexual behavior program at Bill Wilson is an outpatient service, the center will have the option to place children into one of their other services such as the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care program, which involves specially trained foster families.

During the nine- to 12-month program, staff members will have daily contact with the young offender, foster family and biological family, Flores said.

"It's pretty intense," he said. "Research shows that it really makes an impact in regaining that healthy family. The goal is to work with the youth so they safely reintegrate back into the family."

Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869.