County Executive Joel A. Giambra announced Sunday that he is appointing a special task force to study the implications of recent state legislation raising the maximum age for Persons in Need of Supervision to include 16- and 17-year-olds.
Supervising Family Court Judge Sharon S. Townsend will head the nine-member task force to study and assess how Erie County will be affected by the law change, scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1.
"We think we are the first county in the state to do this," Giambra said. "We want to be ahead of the curve, to get a handle on this beforehand. Nobody knows what the impact will be but the assumption is more kids will be remanded to us. We want to be prepared."
Persons in Need of Supervision, or PINS, are currently individuals under 16 who do not attend school as required by law, or who are "incorrigible, ungovernable or habitually disobedient and beyond the lawful control of a parent or guardian."
Giambra said he has asked County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, to appoint one member of the task force, to assure representation of the legislative as well as the executive and judicial branches of county government.
"I am starting with Judge Townsend as chair of the task force because of her dedication, concern and experience," Giambra noted.
Townsend said she was pleased to be named chairman of the task force.
"I think it's a terrific idea on the part of the county executive, to bring together the judicial, legislative and executive branches to plan for this new PINS bill," she said.
"I have been advocating all along that we have to look at what its effects will be. I hope to work in a collaborative way to come up with recommendations to meet the needs of children, parents and the community."
The first meeting of the task force "will be a planning meeting and should be within the next month," Townsend added. "With the new law going into effect Nov. 1, we need to have our report and our recommendations in by Labor Day."
Giambra has been in close touch with state Senators Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, an author of the new legislation, and Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, he noted.
"They have said they are willing to provide additional dollars if we do get greater numbers of PINS mandates, and find this creates a financial burden for us," Giambra said.
Since 1985, a preventive diversion procedure has been in place in the state to assess and give individualized services to young people alleged to be PINS and their families. The goal is to resolve complaints outside the court system, and to reduce out-of-home placements.
About 95 young people come into PINS diversion here each month, Townsend said.
If diversion is not successful, a PINS petition is made to Family Court.
"We have close to 1,300 PINS petitions filed a year here," Townsend noted.
Advocates of the legislation say it will reduce the number of 16- and 17-year-old runaways, and give parents a lawful means of getting treatment and other assistance for their older troubled teens.
Opponents say the age hike will come with staggering financial cost, and cause an unprecedented drain on professionals and others who already work with under-16 PINS and their families.
The County Legislature recently approved a Giambra measure letting the county enter contracts with non-profit community and faith-based agencies that have the expertise to meet the needs of the local PINS population.