Board of Control votes to make library safe place for children

Pictured is Christopher Youth Center coordinator Michaela Taylor telling the Lincoln Parish Libaray Board of Control about her organization’s safe place program as LPL Director Jeremy Bolom looks on. (Photo by T. Scott Boatright)

By T. Scott Boatright

The Lincoln Parish Library is now officially a “Safe Place” for children.

That’s after the LPL Board of Control approved a motion during Thursday’s monthly meeting to enter into a partnership with the Christopher Youth Center in Monroe.

The  Christopher Youth Center provides emergency housing, food, clothing, counseling, tutoring, transportation to school, and other appropriate referrals to troubled, victimized, runaway and homeless males and females ages 11-17 years old.

Youth can access help at a safe-place site like the Lincoln Parish Library simply by letting the person on duty know that they need help. Christopher Youth Center staff or volunteers will be contacted and someone will meet the youth at the safe place site to assess the situation and determine the best options to help.

Christopher Youth Center Coordinator Michaela Taylor appeared before the LPL Board of Control during Thursday’s meeting to pitch the idea at the request of library director Jeremy Bolom.

“The reason I’m asking for this is because the library staff members are already mandated reporters,” Bolom said. 

Under the oversight and regulations of Louisiana’s Department of Children’s and Family Services, mandated reporters are people who work with children and are required to report the facts and circumstances that led them to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected. They do not have the burden of providing proof that abuse or neglect has occurred. 

“This is a logical step and I think that’s the reason the Christopher Center approaches libraries in general,” Bolom said. “This is a new movement they started and several libraries in the area have already done it. I heard about it at a Trailblazer meeting of libraries. I know the Ouachita Parish Library has done it already.”

Taylor said the program specializes in working with runaways and teens that are homeless or victimized in the home.

“The main thing that we do see in our area are children who are being abused in their homes and Child Protective Services has not gotten involved yet,” Taylor said. “So we’re normally that first stepping stone. We’re the first place for children to retreat to if they aren’t safe or comfortable in the home.

“We can investigate and talk with parents. We try to let the parents play a role in this because our main goal is reunification if there is no abuse. If it’s a kid who’s just had their phone taken away, normally we can resolve that kind of thing. We offer free family counseling. All of our services are completely free. We’re just here to help the kids in our community.”

If a child was to go to the library and ask for help, LPL officials would then call the Christopher Youth Center.

“All the library has to do is call and tell us they have a youth that needs help and we will come over and pick up the youth and bring them to Christopher Youth Center. We do contact their parents unless it’s a situation where they’re being abused or a situation of human trafficking. Then we would investigate that further. We are mandated reporters as well as the library staff.”

After discussion, the LPL Board of Control voted to enter into the partnership with Christopher Youth Center.

“If we get into this and start feeling it’s not what we really want, we can get out of it,” LPL Board member Richard Durrett said.

Safe Place signage will be added to the library to signify the partnership and let youth know the service is available through the LPL.

In other business, the Library Board of Control tabled a request made by Bolom to reinstate an assistant director position to the library, a position phased out at least temporarily during the COVID pandemic. 

Board members voted 5-3 to table the requested motion until later in order to have more time to study the pay scale necessary to bring the position back into the library’s budget.

The Board also approved a motion regarding annual paid leave for its director position, with the director earning 20 days per year before that increases to 21 days per year after five years of service.

But under current guidelines LPL staffers get 21 days of annual paid leave for 16-20 years of service and 24 days for 21-25 years of service. 

Bolom is already more than 20 years into service at the library, hence the move to relook at annual leave guidelines in order to bring the LPL director’s leave into line with other library staff members.

The Board approved a motion to grant Bolom’s leave based on his total years of service and also approved a motion to review and  compare LPL leave guidelines with leave guidelines set by the Lincoln Parish Police Jury, which owns the library property.