US Mayor Article

Reno Targets Young Children “Hidden” from System
Police Mount Rescue Effort, Coordinate Services to Children and Parents, Reduce Juvenile Offenses

March 20, 2000


The tragic shooting of the six-year-old Michigan schoolgirl on February 29 was a painful reminder to local officials across the nation of what can happen when poverty, neglect and guns come together in the life of a child.

In 1996, Reno police officers discovered several small children living in conditions of extreme filth and poverty in a group of about 20 rundown motels along the City’s East Fourth Street Corridor, an area of bars, drugs and prostitution. The parents of many of these children were chronic drug or alcohol abusers unable or unwilling to care for them. Hungry and unsupervised, these children were hidden from the system – not yet enrolled in school, rarely getting medical attention.

Police responded to this situation by joining with a public health nurse to form a “knock and talk” rescue effort they called “Kid’s Korner.” The officers and nurse began visiting the motels to check on the children, but doors did not open easily, as many of the parents, while overwhelmed by their problems, were also suspicious of authority.

In one case, a 12-year-old girl opened the door to a dark and foul smelling motel room in which another child was observed hiding in a sleeping bag on the floor. Initially, the mother was reluctant to talk, denied that problems existed and said she didn’t want help. When the team succeeded in convincing her that they were not there to take away her children, and when they learned that the five-year-old child in the sleeping bag was severely mentally challenged and in diapers, they immediately arranged for the medical and psychological services needed and performed several follow-ups to be certain that the family was being helped. Some time later, the mother confessed to the nurse that many of the family’s problems were the result of the abusive relationship in which she had been involved, and that, as a result of the Kid’s Korner intervention, she gained the courage to extricate herself from the relationship and move her children back to her family home in Ohio. There the 12-year-old was attending school, the younger child was in a “special needs” Head Start program, and she was returning to school as well.

As a result of the early efforts of the Kid’s Korner team, the rescue program quickly expanded to include a dozen local service agencies and a medical care van. Children and their parents started receiving health exams, treatment, immunizations, dental referrals and parenting education. A social worker and two paraprofessional home visitors were added to assist families and ensure they were getting access to the services they needed.

Once they address the immediate medical and social needs of a family, the Kid’s Korner team assesses the family’s willingness to make positive changes in their lives and, if appropriate, refers the family to ongoing services. The home visitor meets with the family on a weekly basis to provide transportation to appointments, assistance with filling out forms, translation, and helping to develop skills in parenting, budgeting, hygiene, nutrition and other areas. The goal is to build trust over time and provide the consistent attention and support needed to move a family into a more positive lifestyle.

Today, the Reno Police Department, Sparks Police Department, St. Mary’s Community Outreach, and Washoe County’s Sheriff’s Office, Social Services, and District Health Department are partners in what has become a regional effort to reach families and children in desperate need of help.

In a recent 12-month period in the City of Reno, the two-day per week knock and talk program and mobile clinic contacted over 2,000 people and immunized over 1,200 children. The program has made over 500 referrals to local community service agencies.

Since it was launched four years ago, Reno officials say, the Kids Korner initiative has had a measurable impact: Police data show significant reductions in calls related to child neglect, truancy and vandalism in the target area, and Washoe County Social Services reports a 20 percent decrease in Child Protective Service investigations since the program began.

The Reno Police Department has produced an operations manual for Kid’s Korner which details 1) the program’s mission and objectives, 2) the steps required in setting up the program, including creating the service partnerships and providing the necessary communications, staff training and publicity, 3) client service guidelines, including standards for conduct, procedures for field visits, supplies and equipment needed for health care, and 4) program administration requirements, including documenting and tracking client activity, measuring and reporting on program results, and marketing the program. The manual includes sample forms, sample reports, and a resource guide to more information on collaborations, home visits and health care.

The manual also includes lessons learned in Reno. For example, according to Officer Jack Munns, who has been involved with the program from the outset, “The police response should be minimal. The first few times we took several officers and three police cars. This immediately put the families on the defensive and no one wanted to talk with us....The approach that has worked for us is one officer and one nurse doing the door-to-door portion. You can have the rest of the treatment team out in the parking lot.”

More information on Kid’s Korner is available from Christopher Good at (775) 326-6309.