TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) ― During a recent budget presentation, a Taylor County juvenile probation officer said there was a growing issue countywide and she first noticed it about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. There isn’t an increase in crimes being committed by minors, but the severity of the crime has gotten noticeably worse.

“Referrals are pretty much the same, however, we are seeing an increase in offenses such as Assault on Public Servants, Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Robbery… We’re seeing a lot of younger youth who have offenses of a sexual nature, which is concerning,” explained Allison Stafford, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Taylor County.

Pointing to a rise – not in the amount of crimes being committed, but in the severity of offenses, Stafford said this is a multifaceted issue without a single root cause. She said the pandemic played a major role in exacerbating the issue.

Psychotherapist, Dr. Marc Orner, told KTAB/KRBC it was the isolation and lack of socialization many children underwent during the pandemic that threw a wrench in their social development.

“With that social isolation, they depend upon themselves and their own fantasies, and their own thought process,” explained Dr. Orner.

This lack of development, combined with little oversight by authority figures, or often, overworked family members has already led some to make poor decisions with little regard for consequence. Which is exactly what Dr. Orner and Officer Stafford said these kids need.

“Part of the juvenile system is to promote accountability,” said Stafford.

Whether through community service, probationary measures or detention when needed, Stafford explained that the county is intent on showing these kids that their actions do have consequences.

“Our goal is to keep them out of the adult prison system,” Stafford urged while continuing on, “Out of the cemetery.”

Staffing shortages at the state level, specifically at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, have caused a trickle down effect and a backlog of cases in rural areas.

“The counties that don’t have detention facilities rely on us to house their kids,” said Stafford, meaning the more volatile offenders who would normally be referred to the state system have to stay local. That leads to filling up beds and leaving rural counties with little recourse.

Those still on staff at the state and local levels are, however, working quickly and diligently to process these cases and get juveniles the assistance they need to hopefully rejoin society and not re-offend.

Stafford and Dr. Orner agree that before any reactionary measures are needed, preventative action by friends and family is the best defense against this rise in crime.

“They can talk to a school counselor, they can talk to a pastor, they can call 2-1-1,” Stafford encouraged.

Dr. Orner added, “Counseling is not always 100 percent successful, I’ll say that, but counseling is the first step.”