Council Spotlight: Mitigating the Effects of COVID-19 Through Community Partnership

Council Background: Active since 2011, The St. Clair County Juvenile Justice Council is housed in the St. Clair County’s State’s Attorney Office. Under the leadership of their Coordinator, Tammy Vaughn-Walker, the Council has built a robust membership that includes a Teen Court program, youth community-based organizations, the juvenile detention center, the probation department, local school districts, faith-based organizations, and parent advocacy groups.

Through funding from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, St. Clair County convenes and engages local stakeholders to create collaborative strategies for reducing racial and ethnic disparities and reliance on the juvenile justice system by utilizing data and incorporating the lived experiences of their community members. Local community stakeholders are integral to the success of Juvenile Justice Councils because they possess unique community-level knowledge and expertise that best equips them to uncover and address problems within their county. By engaging their network of community partners, St. Clair County was able to quickly mobilize efforts to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on youth.

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the St. Clair County Juvenile Justice Council knew it needed to act fast to support the community’s needs to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Normally operating with a philosophy that emphasizes community-wide collaboration and addressing the root causes of justice involvement, the Council recognized the disruptive nature of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has really just exacerbated a lot of these issues we’ve already seen,” said Council Coordinator Tammy Vaughn-Walker, referring to racial and ethnic disparities and housing instability.

To prevent further destabilization of families and communities as a result of COVID-19, St. Clair County rallied its established network of community partners to aid in a collaborative response to support the basic needs of families during COVID-19. For example, United Congregations of Metro East and East Side Aligned hosted COVID-19 virtual forums for community members, parents, educators, faith communities, youth service providers, and existing coalitions to discuss barriers and receive updates from the Illinois Department of Public Health. In addition, council members, Community Lifeline, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), and Parents United for Change delivered face masks and gloves to families in public housing and canvassed the area to identify what additional support local families needed. And although school is no longer in session, the East St. Louis School District and the Urban League have continued distributing food and toiletries to families in need. The Council is integral to the community response by making sure members and partners know what resources are available and have access to them.

Overall, the Council’s approach to mitigating the effects of COVID-19 remain in line with its overall juvenile justice philosophy which rests on the idea that a reduction of youth justice involvement cannot happen without addressing the root causes and engaging community stakeholders to promote systemic change. The Council and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission are viewing the issues magnified by COVID-19 as an opportunity to have important conversations about the impact of systemic racism and poverty on the juvenile justice system, as well as the role community members and partners play in building a more equitable community.

“The work of our council is driven by the desire to create positive youth outcomes and we’re working to ensure our youth systems focus on justice and equity” said Vaughn-Walker. “As the Council Coordinator, I’m hoping for a ‘new normal’ to arise out of COVID-19 where it’s not weird or uncomfortable to talk about racial equity and relying on disaggregated data to inform our responses as part of our work.”

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