Corrections official honored for work
Margaret Barber can tell stories about kids that will
scare you to death. But she also can tell you success stories and about
everybody in between.
Barber has been working with kids for 37 years, mostly in York County.
Now a regional director of the state Department of Juvenile Justice, she
supervises directors in 12 counties, including York County. She recently
was named Best in the Business by Corrections Today, the magazine
of the American Correctional Association. She can retire next month but
will stay on because she said she's having fun and still has work to do.
Collaboration among agencies is the key to success these days, Barber
said. It wasn't like that in the early days, when there was little
communication and agencies protected their turf. "We are fixing kids for
the first time in the right way," said Barber, 58. "I feel good about
what is happening now."
A native of Fort Mill, Barber was 21 and a graduate of Winthrop
University when she got her first job as a probation juvenile officer in
1968. She worked all ends of a juvenile case -- gathering evidence that
she presented in court, developing a plan for the child and providing
follow-up and transportation. "We did it all," she said. "We were all
She stayed about a year, leaving when she married her co-worker Evan
Barber of Chester. They moved to Spartanburg, where she was director of
medical social work at the hospital.
Later, they moved to Chester while Evan Barber worked for the court
system. Margaret stayed home with their son. But it wasn't long before
the family "got hungry," she said. She went back to work as the only
protective service worker with the Chester County Department of Social
She remembers trying to remove children from a home and having a gun put
to her head. Sheriff's deputies followed her home to keep her safe, she
said. "It was a tough part of my career," she said, noting she worked
125 cases by herself.
By the mid-1970s, they were back in York County. She worked for what is
now the state Department of Juvenile Justice and became administrator
for the Piedmont region in 1999.
Barber has seen it all, she said. In the early days, kids tended to be
from lower-income families, she said. Most were truants or in trouble
for vandalism or stealing. "The crimes were more petty," she said. "They
were destroying property because they were bored."
She worked with teens like Earth Angel "Angie" Ochoa, now of Seneca, who
was brought in when she was about 14 for skipping school. "She made me
realize there were better things out there than getting in trouble,"
said Ochoa, now 43. "She really laid it out. I respected for her that."
Today, the department deals with children from all socio-economic
levels, Barber said. The Piedmont region's most frequent offense is
simple assault and battery. Other common offenses include shoplifting,
truancy and marijuana possession. In York County alone, there were 1,278
juvenile cases in 2003-2004, an 11 percent decrease from the year
before, according to department statistics. Of that, 96 were violent and
serious, a 3 percent increase from the previous year.
"Young people are faced with things we were never faced with," she said.
"Peer pressure is tremendous." The parents are different, too. She's
seen parents make excuses for their children and others who are too hard
on them. Some just don't care.
Solutions also are different, she said. Now, the department works with
mental health, drug and alcohol prevention agencies, schools and
churches to develop plans for troubled kids. "We want families involved
with us in making decisions," she said. "We are trying to look at the
root of the problem."
Barber, named Employee of the Year in 2005, is a leader, said Bill Byars,
DJJ director. She knows how to listen and focuses on success stories
instead of failures, he said. "She has never lost her passion," he said.
"Her flame burns as bright today as it ever did."
Barber can't really say when she'll be ready to leave, although she
dreams of running an events planning business from her home. Some days
she longs to sit on her porch, although she enjoys working and seeing
the creativity of county directors. She wouldn't change a thing about
her career, she said.
"I have no regrets," she said "It's been a wonderful ride, the whole
6 November 2005