Act 53 became a law in Pennsylvania in 1998 after legislators realized a gap in services for youth who refused substance abuse treatment but had problems with drugs and alcohol. Act 53 provides parents and legal guardians a means by which to engage their drug and or alcohol involved child in treatment services – if the child has refused to cooperate with an assessment and/or counseling. To be eligible, youth must be at least twelve (12) years of age and under the age of eighteen (18) and be a resident of Berks County. Furthermore, if the youth is involved with the Berks County Children and Youth Services Agency (CYS) or the Berks County Juvenile Probation Office (JPO), it is expected that appropriate services would be provided by that agency to the youth.
The intent of the Act 53 process is to initially try and have the youth enter counseling or treatment voluntarily. In Berks County, the point of contact to initiate Act 53 proceedings is the Juvenile Probation Office. Therefore, the parent or guardian must contact the Juvenile Probation Office at 610 478-3200 to schedule an initial interview. At this interview, the parent/guardian will complete a short form that identifies the child's problem(s) with drugs and or alcohol, while also requesting that a drug and alcohol assessment be performed. The Juvenile Probation Office will schedule an appointment for this assessment, which is completed at the TASC office at 19 N. 6th Street, Suite 300 in Reading. There is no charge for this assessment. At the conclusion of this assessment, the child will be told if they need treatment as well as where that treatment will occur. Treatment can involve the youth attending outpatient counseling or can include an inpatient drug and alcohol program. A referral is then sent to the appropriate agency through TASC. The cost of treatment is normally paid for by the family’s insurance; however, there can be a co-pay which is the responsibility of the parent. There may also be public funding available.
If the child does not comply with the initial assessment and/or with the treatment recommendation of that assessment, the parent/guardian will then need to notify the Juvenile Probation Office in order to take further action. Another form would need to be completed in order to petition the Court for a hearing to address the child's noncompliance. Notice of the hearing will be mailed to the parent and juvenile. At Court, the juvenile will be represented by an attorney at no cost. The attorney is present to assure that the juvenile’s rights are represented. At this hearing, the Judge has the option of ordering the youth to cooperate with a TASC evaluation and/or counseling. The Judge could also order Berks County Children and Youth Services to become involved with the family in order to gain the child's compliance. If the Judge orders CYS to open a case, their office will contact the family to begin their intake process. Ultimately, if the youth continues to be noncompliant, CYS can schedule the case for Court and take action to commit the youth to a treatment program.
To begin the process, contact the Berks County Juvenile Probation Office (JPO) at the County Services Center, located at 633 Court Street, 10th Floor in Reading, PA 19601 or call 610-478-3200 and ask to speak with an intake officer for Act 53.