How Suburban Facilities Are Working to Reduce Calls to Police

Article excerpt

Byline: Lenore T. Adkins By Lenore T. Adkins

Second of two parts

By Lenore T. Adkins

While most group homes operate quietly, their presence sometimes unknown even to their immediate neighbors, others create a surprisingly high volume of calls to emergency services.

A single 13-year-old client at an Elgin group home who was a chronic runaway generated 130 police contacts in 2010 and 2011. And a Naperville group home for troubled teen girls generated 723 calls to emergency services between January 2010 and May 2012.

On the other hand, a group home in Palatine run by [URL]Shelter Inc.;[/URL] posted only 20 calls for emergency services during that time, even though the agency serves a similar clientele -- abused and neglected children and adolescents. And five group homes run by the Little City Foundation in Palatine posted a combined 23 calls for emergency services. The foundation works with children who have developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The Daily Herald obtained the data by filing Freedom of Information requests with emergency personnel in several suburbs housing 36 group homes. The goal was to measure the validity of fears people sometimes express when a group home is proposed in their neighborhood.

While the numbers show that some clienteles present more management challenges than others, follow-up interviews with police, group home administrators and neighbors also found that when all work together, calls can decline dramatically. That's been the case in both Elgin and Naperville.

Causes of calls

Six teenage girls at a time typically live inside the Naperville home operated by [URL]ChildServ; videos[/URL], which sits in the city's picturesque historic district, and staff is there 24/7. The girls were placed with the state due to abuse and neglect, and often have emotional and behavioral problems, officials said.

Records show that the top three categories for police services were for runaways (209 calls), follow-ups (203 calls) and missing person reports (171 calls). Other calls included 19 for disorderly conduct, six for theft, six for fights and six for battery.

"Generally, they're running out to be with their friends to hang out -- it's generally not something at the house," said Elizabeth Heneks, ChildServ's vice president of programs.

Out of concerns for the clients' privacy, ChildServ staff members declined to let the Daily Herald tour the home or talk to its staff. Department of Children and Family Services policy prevents their clients from talking to the media.

"Do we go there more frequently than other places in the community? Yes, I would say that would be a fair assertion, but I wouldn't say (police) are overloaded," Naperville Police Sgt. Gregg Bell said. "You have to look at the clientele who lives in there. These are young adults who are wards of the state who haven't had some of the best opportunities that some of us may have had, so they bring unique backgrounds and needs."

Earlier this year, ChildServ met with Naperville's new police chief and had other officers over for an open house with staff members. That meeting resulted in a closer partnership, officials said. From June 1 through and Dec. 12, there were only 26 calls for emergency services.

"We're working hard to get on board with the community in terms of building better relationships that really widen everyone's capacity to be good neighbors to each other and for people to also understand ChildServ's mission in terms of helping these kids," said James Jones, president and chief executive officer of ChildServ.

When it comes to an organization that runs multiple group homes within the same town, the [URL]Larkin Center;http://www. …