Kathy McNamara

Reporter’s Notebook: Probation Officer & So Much More

Kathy McNamara has played the roles of surrogate mother, mentor, big sister, coach, cheerleader, kindly counselor, confidante, inspiration and friend to her young charges. All the while, McNamara’s also served as their probation officer just outside Chicago in DuPage County, Ill. For 16 years now, she has worked on hundreds of the toughest of juvenile cases — those of so-called “dual-status youth,” kids entangled in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Here and there, on the juvenile justice beat, you discover someone who goes so far beyond the call of duty you want to tell the world about that person. Kathy McNamara, a senior probation officer for juveniles, is one of those people. I first learned about McNamara, 45, while reporting on a JJIE story on dual-status youths.

Click to view full interactive map on the JJGPS website.

‘Dual-Status’ Kids Endure Another Kind of Double Jeopardy

So-called dual-status youth, those in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, present enormous challenges. Many of the children are chronic runaways who have suffered from severe physical or emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment. They typically come from troubled homes often beset by domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness.

Historically, the juvenile justice and other child-serving systems have not worked together. That’s starting to change, albeit slowly.

The complexities of dealing with dual-status kids notwithstanding, success stories show how breaking down barriers between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems can make all the difference in a child’s life.

Newton County Juvenile Court

Georgia Earning a Name for Juvenile Justice in a New Way

Newton County is one of four sites in the nation chosen by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps to serve as a demonstration project — to show how the juvenile justice court can work with DFCS, other children-serving agencies and the community to identify dual status youth and get them the help they need.