Editor, The Independent:
I extend greetings from Family Court! I would like to take a minute of your time to discuss part of what Family Court does and the benefit that it provides to our community. Family Court is actually a misnomer; it is technically the “Family Division of Circuit Court.” The family court handles everything from abuse and neglect cases; custody, child support and parenting time cases; and delinquency cases. Delinquency is a term for juvenile criminal cases.
Our mission, as it related to juveniles, is to take kids who have made mistakes big enough to draw the attention of law enforcement and teach them the consequences, while making equal or greater strides to prevent future mistakes and help them become productive adults. This goal is sought under the direction of the best juvenile probation officers that I have ever seen, in my 24 years of private practice and nearly three years on the bench. They are true believers and true professionals.
A new development this last year is a group of four part time contract workers whom we have affectionately come to call “The Night Riders.” These four people, two of them are former juvenile probation officers, work part time during the evening hours checking up on the kids in their own homes. It gives us a regular pulse on what’s going on after the court is closed (when most trouble happens). They meet weekly with the court administrators and caseworkers. And they are paid by a grant, so they are at no cost to the county.
One of the most common questions I fielded as a candidate for this job three years ago went something like this: “What do we get, as a community, from these offenders who often destroy property and cost the law enforcement system?” I thought then and I still think that is a fair question.
Let me say this, by way of an answer. Our case officers and our youth center focus a great deal of our time on that very issue. Throughout the course of the year, these children, really young adults, spend hundreds if not thousands of hours working on projects to fix and improve public properties throughout this county. I often heard farmers during my campaign say “Give ’em to me for a week. You can learn a lot baling 2,000 bales of hay.” I don’t doubt that for a minute, and I wish I could. But, understandably, we can’t put them to work for a private, for-profit entity.
Specifically, the youth have rehabilitated the Kerby Road County Park on M-21 at Kirby and Shipman roads, spent hundreds of hours in the gardens of the DeVries Nature Conservancy, under the direction of its director, Ken Algozin. The food produced was donated to help the fight against hunger.
Additionally, our Shiawassee County Youth Center, currently headed by Walt Knickerbocker, kicks into high gear during summer break helping juveniles who are not scheduled to graduate on time, if at all, make up lost high school credit caused by misconduct and suspensions. This is not a voluntary program for these students. If they come under the jurisdiction of the Family Court and are, or become, credit deficient, they will go to school at the youth center, day and/or evenings. Yes, that means a student could come home from public school in the afternoon and attend school at our youth center in the evening.
I have only mentioned a few people by name, but I admit that I believe I have the best staff in the county. They all go above and beyond to do their job with pride and get along with each other. They too are “True Believers.”
It is ever our goal to do the best job possible to serve this community by helping prepare kids who have been in trouble become contributing adults. It is our sincere hope that investing resources to them at this stage pays us back with interest in the years to come. If the children are our future, as poets and parents have often said, it is our duty to do what we can to help.
We are ever looking for better ways and new ideas to accomplish our mission. I can be contacted by phone, mail or social media. Thank you again, for this opportunity to serve.
Hon. Thomas J Dignan, Probate Court Judge
Circuit Court Judge, Family Division
110 E Mack Street, second floor,
Corunna, MI 48817; (989) 743-2211