Just over a month after the Juvenile Office made drastic changes because of a mandate from the Missouri Supreme Court, more changes are coming.

Chief Juvenile Officer Perry Barnes and Circuit Judge Laura Johnson informed the Christian County Commission, Aug. 7, that Christian County deputy juvenile officers aren’t being paid what the state statutes require.

“For a first-class county … it’s slightly above what the position is currently being paid,” Johnson said, adding that the county is “statutorily mandated” to pay the higher rate.

The salary for deputy juvenile officers should be a minimum of $38,121. Currently the county pays its juvenile officers $36,000.

For Christian County, this affects two county positions and one grant-funded position. The remaining juvenile officers are employed through the state.

“We are unique in that we are one of two first-class counties that have state-funded and county-funded positions,” Barnes said.

The change in salaries will cost the county about an additional $8,000 this year.

There was no action taken on the matter — since the county apparently has no choice in the matter. Commissioners asked Barnes if the funds were in his budget, to which he said yes.

“We’ll currently be able to cover this year,” he said, adding that he’s had some positions open, which has given some extra cushion in his budget. “We will ask the state to take over those positions (next year).”

The discussion, however, quickly moved to the performance standard changes the Supreme Court put into effect July 1 — something the Headliner News reported on in late June.

With the new Missouri Juvenile Officer Performance Standards, the Juvenile Office can no longer investigate juvenile crime. Instead, its role is more like that of a prosecuting attorney. The Juvenile Office will review the investigations of the law enforcement officers and, based off that paperwork, decide if charges will be filed or what the consequence should be.

That leaves the investigations involving juveniles to law enforcement throughout the county — municipal police departments, Christian County Sheriff’s Office and school resource officers.

Eastern Associate Commissioner Ralph Phillips said with these mandated changes, it appears that juvenile officers would have less work.

“From the outside looking in … all investigations are transferred to law enforcement,” Phillips said. “With the workload the Sheriff’s Office is going to incur, it would seem natural to transfer those (juvenile officers) over to the Sheriff’s Office … specifically identifying them as juvenile investigations.”

Barnes, however, said the caseload of the juvenile office has not changed “at all,” listing off things such as the intake and interview process that the juvenile officers still must complete.

Johnson said before the mandated changes, juvenile officers conducted the investigation at the same time as the intake and interview process.

“It’s more of a duplication, now, of effort instead of a separation of effort,” Johnson said. “I think (the Supreme Court’s) idea is the duties need to be separated from a conflict-of-interest standpoint.”

Western Associate Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu asked for more, however, saying he wants to be able to better explain it to constituents.

“(How can I) explain to the average person how the Sheriff’s Office is going to pick up this great burden … but the Juvenile Office doesn’t have less work,” he asked. “From my standpoint, it still feels like there is less on juvenile, more on the sheriff.”

Barnes said he and Chief Deputy Juvenile Officer Jared Roderick conducted their own investigations in the past — but not anymore.

“You can’t be a good juvenile officer and a good administrator — I found that out,” Barnes said. “We’ll be administrators. We’ll develop programs for the community. We need to be doing more. We’ve been Band-Aiding.”

Phillips, who volunteers in the Ozark School District, said he’s worried about kids falling through the cracks.

“The impact that it’s going to put on these local agencies is going to make these kids more vulnerable,” Phillips said. “I can’t emphasize enough how concerned I am … My passion and life is at-risk kids. I think we have to be creative how to approach this if we want to reach these kids.”

By Amelia Wigton | Christian County Headliner News