INDIANAPOLIS—A pilot program to help at-risk youth in Marion County appears to be paying off. That’s according to the Indiana Public Defender Commission. But some argue implementing programs like this one statewide already faces an uphill battle. 

”I’ve seen them change their families in a positive way,” said Nichole Lincoln, a case worker with the Marion County Public Defenders Office.

Lincoln is a member of Marion County’s Early Intervention Team—a three-person squad that’s helped 200 kids on the verge of entering the juvenile system.

”We just come up with connecting them with different community resources to keep them out of detention,” Lincoln said.

Attorney Hal Thurston said in the 18 months his team has been operating, Marion County has seen an 18 percent decrease in the number of juvenile delinquency cases needing secure detention.

”One out of six children that would have been, that are detained in the control group, we are able to put together a safety plan with the family and the child to get them released,” Thurston said.

The pilot program was made possible through grant funding from the Indiana Public Defender Commission. The commission said the goal is to help at-risk families solve what are often minor legal problems that balloon out of control.

”That results in major DCS cases—we should try to prevent those before we reach the point where we’re taking children away,” said Andrew Cullen, director of Public Policy and Communications with the Indiana PDC.

However, only four counties have applied for funding so far.

”We barely can fund what we do now,” said Stephen Owens, the chief public defender for Vanderburgh County.

Owens said implementing a similar program in smaller counties is unlikely without statewide or federal funding.

”I have neither the space nor the staff to add a bunch of people to do a pilot program,” Owens said.

The commission said there is no deadline for counties to apply for this funding. However, there is a little less than a million dollars left. The commission also said it won’t ask for additional funds from the General Assembly until it’s spent the money it currently has to fund these types of pilot programs.