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Longstreth retires as juvenile officer

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

By James R. Campbell

Nevada Daily Mail

Jeani Longstreth knew it was time to retire "the day somebody came in and said, 'You were my grandma's juvenile officer,'" she says.

She has worked in the 28th Judicial Circuit's Juvenile Court since arriving in Vernon County from Missouri State University in early 1978 as a deputy officer with a degree in sociology and psychology.

Now retiring after serving the past 15 years as chief officer, she will be feted in a 1 to 4 p.m., Friday, reception in the circuit courtroom at Vernon County Courthouse.

"You come into this business recognizing there are failures in families and dysfunction in just about every family that exists," said Longstreth, 59.

"I've been through three generations of children. The point you reach after many years is that if you make a better life for one child, you have changed the world. You don't feel successful when you continue to see failure in families and children who were abused becoming abusive parents; however, there are little successes that keep you doing what you do.

"Your job has been accomplished if you can salvage one child a year who turns their life around and doesn't end up in prison or become an abusive parent."

Longstreth handles cases with children who are abused or neglected and those who commit crimes. Having managed a clerk, four deputies and contract community service and probation supervisors, she will be succeeded Jan. 2 by Public Defender Brandi McInroy, who has been appointed by Judge James R. Bickel.

Her office has 70 delinquents under age 17 on probation and a dozen performing community service in Barton, Cedar, Dade and Vernon counties.

One of Longstreth's best friends is Belinda Elliston, a Lamar attorney who works as legal counsel to Jasper County Juvenile Court. "I've known Jeani for over 20 years, when I first started practicing law," said Elliston.

"She is well-respected throughout Missouri as a fierce advocate for protecting children. She's been involved in a number of State Supreme Court committees that drafted legislation to improve the system and help secure the safety and well-being of those who can't do that themselves.

"She wants to see the sanctity of families, but she is going to protect the child above all else."

Elliston said Longstreth and her husband Kent, who raise 75-100 cattle on their farm near Moundville, were highly supportive when their daughter Brooke, a recent animal science graduate of Missouri State University, took part in livestock shows. "Jeani is very family-oriented," she said.

Longstreth, whose maiden name was Haines, grew up on a farm near Stockton with her late parents Hank and Audrey and brothers Joe, of Stockton, and Jim, of Lee's Summit. "The farm was always homebase, but Dad built grain elevators for Ernest Spencer Engineering of Topeka, and we traveled with him in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska," she said.

While Longstreth is leaving state employment, she will by no means be inactive. "I'll keep working as a clerk for Jime Earnest and Doug Workman at Town & Country Auction and do forensic interviews for the Children's Center of Southwest Missouri and home studies for adoptions," she said.

"It's fun matching children and prospective families."

Always having felt the weighty responsibilities of her job, she said, "After seeing the hideous things that happen to children, there is no excuse and no explanation in my mind as a reason for abusing a child."

Regarding her enforcement of the state juvenile code, she said court jurisdiction may continue until an offender's 21st birthday. "We are not a placement center," she said.

"They might go home or to the Division of Youth Services in the Department of Social Services, which has detention centers in Cass, Jackson, Jasper, Greene and Johnson counties."

The only murder case Longstreth worked was in the early 1980s, when Vernon County deputies arrested two Arkansas boys, 12 and 14 years old. "A man had picked them up when a vehicle they stole ran out of gas, and they made him wrap his arms and legs around a fencepost and shot him in the head for his vehicle," she recalled, noting she facilitated their extradition.

"At that time, a 12-year-old could not be certified as an adult in any state, but in Missouri they can now be certified at any age."

The state's only maximum security youth center is at Mexico, in Audrain County, located in the northeast central part of the state.

Longstreth was a Vernon County employee with no benefits for the first 17 years of career, after which she persuaded former State Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, to pass legislation to make juvenile officers state employees and to give them retroactive benefits, she said.

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Congratulations Jeani on a job well done and for the influence you have had on countless numbers of families in Vernon County. Thankfully myself nor my children had contact with you through your job, but for the families that have, I'm sure they appreciate what you have done for them.

-- Posted by Kiss the Cook on Thu, Dec 6, 2012, at 6:22 PM

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