By: Sergeant Jeff Osgood, Fairfield Police Department
In 2013, police-schools collaboration resulted in the creation of the Sullivan Interagency Youth Services Center (often referred to as Sullivan). Sullivan was a shuttered middle school centrally located in Fairfield that closed one year prior due to the decline in the economy and enrollment. The Fairfield chief of police and the superintendent of schools agreed that the two entities could substantially impact the challenges facing Fairfield youth by merging key police and school district programs at one location to create a “one-stop shop” for youth-related services.
Sullivan was born and soon afterward the school district moved its Student Services Department (responsible for student suspensions and expulsions; truancy and chronic poor school attendance; parent education classes; homeless students; and community relations) to Sullivan. At the same time, the police department moved its Crime Prevention/Youth Services Unit, the Juvenile Diversion Program, the Parent Project Program, the Crimefree Multi-housing Program, Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS), Police Explorers, and the Police Activities League (PAL) teen center into the same facility. The following year, Sullivan added the non-profit Children’s Nurturing Project (CNP). CNP consists of a talented and interdisciplinary staff of social workers, nurses, family support specialists, parenting educators, developmental specialists and others that utilize a home and community based approach in working with high risk families to best support their needs. Plans are in the works to add Solano County Juvenile Probation Officers to Sullivan as well.
The “crown jewel” of Sullivan is the police department’s PAL Center. The decision to move PAL to Sullivan allowed the program to take advantage of a gym, cooking facilities and nearly a whole wing of classrooms. This space now provides anti-violence teen intervention programing, including “Alive and Free,” the primary youth intervention program offered at PAL. Alive & Free strives to put an end to street violence by changing how youth think. Young people who participate in Alive & Free develop a new set of life skills to learn to make better life choices by changing the beliefs, attitudes, values and actions that tend to promote violence. This helps them succeed in life, give back to their communities and go to college, if they choose
The partnering of the Fairfield Police Department, Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District and other youth oriented service providers at the same site fosters better collaboration and relationship building, familiarity with each programs’ resources and a willingness to work together to help our youth solve their problems.
Recently, school district staff at Sullivan learned of two brothers who had missed 20 percent of their classes in the first two months of the school year. Their mother told staff that the family was homeless and living out of a broken down car. She was having difficulty transporting the kids to school at all, much less getting them there on time. The boys were either habitually late or were so late that the mother didn’t see the value in taking them to school at all. School district staff worked to educate the mother about her responsibility to ensure her children made it to school on-time, but also recognized that much of the homeless issue was beyond their scope. School district staff knew how homelessness was impacting the boys’ attendance, but they did not know what resources were available. They reached out to the police department because my office is a 15 second walk from theirs in Sullivan and we’ve worked together on other related issues. This level of familiarity and rapport is an example of the goal of vision in creating Sullivan.
Using resources and relationships that the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team had with a local homeless shelter, we worked with the school district to move the family into a shelter and transfer the kids to a school near the shelter so they could attend regularly. This enabled the non-profit organization running the shelter to provide services to the family in order to transition them to permanent housing. Historically, this family may have languished for an extended period in homelessness. The boys’ education would have suffered in the ensuing years as they tried to learn what they had missed in early education and no one would have closed the services gap to help them overcome their challenges. The police/school collaboration at Sullivan worked against this pattern to assist the family.
There have been many such examples of the teamwork at Sullivan resulting in positive change for Fairfield families. Families encountering a variety of challenges routinely work with the school district and Children’s Nurturing Project staff to receive counselling and referrals to other organizations that could better serve the families’ needs. It’s all about the networking.
Adding to the “one-stop shop,” students and families in need have access to a food pantry run by the PAL Center that is supported by local food banks, as well as a clothes closet run by the school district.
Sullivan is still a work-in-progress after a full year of hard work. However, it’s already well developed and is exploring expanding services in the future with a possible health clinic, dental clinic and other school district support services. The progress already made at Sullivan demonstrates that local government collaborating with community partners can result in improved outcomes, as well as better success for Fairfield youth.
About the author: Jeff Osgood is a Police Sergeant with the Fairfield Police Department. He supervises the Crime Prevention/Youth Services Unit at the Sullivan Interagency Youth Services Center, the Fairfield Police Activities League (PAL), and is the Executive Director for the Fairfield PAL non-profit organization.