Probations office develops online safety program | News

The Sutter County Probations Office Juvenile Division is currently developing new prevention and intervention programs for children in middle school. 

The social media behavioral awareness program Digital Citizenship will be integrated into partnering schools in the 2022/23 school year.

The Probations Office has previously partnered with schools to promote the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program, but has decided to transition in favor of Digital Citizenship. The development of this new program was inspired by partnered schools reporting more issues regarding social media and technology with their students, Deputy Chief Probation Officer Donya Thompson said. 

“We’ve seen a rise this year in citations around inappropriate things in social media and texting, so we looked into what was the best way to meet that need,” Thompson said.

Digital Citizenship focuses on teaching life skills in the digital age. The program ties in aspects of real-world emotional intelligence to influence behaviors in the digital world. Kids are given the opportunity to talk about which things are appropriate to post online and how to interact with their peers in an online environment, Thompson said.

A large component of Digital Citizenship is “If-Then” thinking which trains kids to anticipate consequences of creating a poor digital footprint, engaging in cyberbullying and harassment, and putting their online security in jeopardy.  

While the program is still in its infancy, the Probations Office plans on implementing two versions of Digital Citizenship for kids in the 6th and 8th grades. Supervising Probation Officer Melissa Hulsey believes that educating kids about their relationship with social media is necessary to hold themselves accountable for actions taken in online spheres.

“They feel like (posting) is an instant and then it goes away, but it does create a footprint in the real world that can follow them for years to come. If we’re not providing our kids with a way to do that in a way that avoids problems and immediacy with their social groups as well as into their future, then there are cases on national levels where what they posted when they were 14 years old comes back around,” Hulsey said.

As juvenile probation officers, Hulsey and Thompson have developed Digital Citizenship along with other programs within the Probations Office roster as a preventative measure to behaviors that could escalate to criminal activity.

“One of our biggest goals in juvenile probation is to prevent those kids from ever coming to us. The actual number of kids we have on supervised probation is very small. We really want to keep these kids out of the system,” Thompson said.

In the upcoming school year, the Probations Office plans on diversifying the types of instructors when implementing Digital Citizenship. School resource officers from either the Probations Office or Sutter County Sheriff’s Department will be offered to teach the program. Hulsey believes that students will respond more positively to resource officers who have been established within the student body.

“Sometimes these types of messages coming from a different role and a different voice other than just teachers can increase the listening power,” Hulsey said. “It’s another adult voice saying ‘This could have some consequences if you don’t pay attention.’”

Once plans for Digital Citizenship become finalized, parents will have the opportunity to learn more about the program during an informational meeting. Representatives with the Probations Office will provide lesson examples and opportunities for discussions regarding a child’s online safety, Thompson said.