Odessa, TEXAS (ABC Big 2/FOX 24) – Ector County Youth Center leaders are asking people in the community to help out. All 20 children at the detention center right now are in for felony offenses. The county’s Juvenile Serivces Director explains that there seems to be an upward trend of these kids committing violent crimes, and that there are ways for others to make a difference in their lives.
“I think it’s just surround the kid with positive influences. And again, a lot of kids we deal with don’t have that in their life, and they haven’t. It’s just showing them, there’s another way to live,” says Ector County Juvenile Services Director Kevin Mann.
“These are children. They are 12, 13, 14, maybe 15 years-old. We cannot give up on them,” says Connection Christian Church Pastor Dawn Weaks.
For the past four years, Pastor Dawn Weaks has gone to the Ector County Youth Center for monthly visits. She says the children have dealt with a lot.
“A kids who commits crime has something else going on with them,” says Pastor Weaks.
The department’s latest data shows a nearly 40% of the children referred to the center have at least one parent in prison.
“It’s already difficult being a teenager without a lot of the traumatic events. Again, there can be abuse in the home, adults that they live with who have been incarcerated, or have drug use. Or peer groups, which weighs really heavy on theser kids, and then they struggle,” says Mann.
Both say it’s difficult to help a child who may leave the center, and not even have a matress when they go home. But Pastor Weaks says her own scary situation turned into a passion to help.
“15 years ago now, when I was living in another city, I was a victim of a juvenile crime, an armed robbery. When that happened to me, of course, I was very upset. But when I realized it was a 15-year-old kid that perpetrated that crime, then I had to ask the bigger question. ‘Why are kids committing crimes like this?'” says Pastor Weaks.
Director Mann says a lot of times, the kids come from economically-disadvantaged home. He says social visits- like when Pastor Weaks comes by- are crucial.
“You’re addressing the offense, but your’e really looking at the underlying issue that’s causing that deliquent conduct,” says Mann.
In Ector County, the department’s data shows:
- 60% of kids referred to the center get referred again and come back
- The majority of referred children do not live with both parents
- Before the pandemic, felony referrals have almost doubled in 5 years
“The majority of those felony referrals have been violent. Whether it’s aggravated robberies, and we’re seeing a lot of kids with gun offenses, which is really a predictor of high-risk behavior in the community. And that’s what we’re really concerned about,” says Mann.
Both Mannn and Pastor Weaks say the best step forward for the children, and the entire community, is for the kids to have the resources they need, and a postive support system.
If you would like to help the children at the Youth Center with clothes or other needs, you can contact Connection Christian Church.