Laying Down the Law – with Love

Texas judges celebrate 10-year partnership with BCFS

By Yvonne Paris Rhodes                                                                                               Featured in BCFS’ annual together magazine

Photo: BCFS group pictureA decade-long partnership has led a group of judges in Del Rio, Texas, to refer thousands of youth and families to BCFS Health and Human Services for crisis intervention, counseling and domestic violence services. This group of esteemed community leaders includes Justices of the Peace Hilda C. Lopez, Pat Cole, Jim Bob Barrera and Antonio Faz III, and County Judge Efrain Valdez.

Every month, the judges collectively order about 30 teens, young adults and families to participate in BCFS programs, mostly for misdemeanors or truancy. The judges review their dockets ahead of time and invite BCFS case managers into the courtroom to give on-the-spot referrals.

In many cases, the judges will defer fines or court costs, or clear the offense from the record if the youth or family joins a BCFS program and receives a certificate of completion. Executive Director of BCFS’ Community Services Division, Celeste Garcia, calls this longtime partnership “an honor and a privilege.”

BCFS operates the Services To At-Risk Youth program, known as STAR, which aims to reduce family conflict and prevent delinquent behaviors, running away, and child abuse by helping youth and their families learn to resolve crises and develop coping and parenting skills. It includes free counseling, support groups, trainings, basic needs support, and emergency respite placements.

“We work closely to identify the issues that are the root cause of each teen’s misbehavior or poor choices,” says Garcia. “If a student faces truancy charges and a judge sends them to us, BCFS works with the youth and family as a whole to find the real problem. Maybe they don’t have a car, are being bullied at school, or they suffer abuse in the home. Perhaps their parents need them to go to work instead to help pay the bills.”

BCFS’ domestic violence program provides safety, support and resources to victims of abuse, as well as promotes violence-free relationships and abuse prevention.

“The youth of our community are our leaders of tomorrow,” says Precinct 2 Justice Faz. “Having the ability to intervene at a young age and the possibility of turning their lives around means that we as a community have succeeded.”

Even after the courtroom referral, the judges stay in close contact with BCFS. “We keep the lines of communication open with our judges and work hand-in- hand to see how we can remove any barriers our families face,” says BCFS’ Celeste Garcia. “Sometimes all they need is transportation, childcare or basic assistance to come to counseling sessions or classes.”

Judge Valdez, who has served the community for 35 years, calls himself an “advocate” of BCFS programs.

“Seeing firsthand the dedication of the BCFS staff and the outstanding results that our youth and families experience has inspired me greatly,” Precinct 3 Justice Cole shared.

Justice Barrera, Precinct 1, recalled a memorable case he referred to BCFS.

“This spring, a teenage girl from Mexico was attending school here in Del Rio. It was hard for her to socialize in the new environment,” said Barrera. “When she finished the BCFS class, she improved her grades to As and Bs. For me and my staff, it was something wonderful for us to have shared with her.”

Justice Lopez, Precinct 4, expressed her thanks to BCFS for “not giving up on people who do not realize they are in need of help.”

She added, “BCFS’ services are inspiring because we can advise people of what is out there for them. What inspires me to connect people to BCFS is the staff who show their concern and truly want to help people.”