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The Heavy Cost of a High School Drug Offense

The Washington Post has a story about the harsh realities of drug offenses, even minor ones, in high school. The story, by Donna St. George, focuses on a teen facing some slim college choices after school officials in Fairfax County, Va., imposed stiff penalties on him for bringing a device to school that is used for smoking marijuana.

The point of the piece is to show how families, and now some school systems, are struggling with the repercussions of school policies that can vastly alter the lives of young people.

Karen Worthington: If you Want to Prevent Crime, Work to Prevent Child Abuse

Downtown Atlanta workers may not see pinwheels in the parks this April. The brightly colored children’s toys have twirled in the wind for many Aprils, each representing one of the thousands of children who are abused in Georgia each year. Just two weeks before the start of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Prevent Child Abuse Georgia (PCAG), an affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America, abruptly closed its doors.

The closure of PCAG presents an opportunity for Georgia to redesign and revitalize our child abuse prevention work. Child abuse prevention activities, such as public awareness, home visitation programs, parent education and early identification of risk factors, are essential components of a safe, healthy, prosperous community.

Abuse and neglect lead a child into a maze of inefficient social service systems and unwanted outcomes such as criminal activities, poor health, school failure and substance abuse. This not only harms individual children and those who know them, it harms communities that have to deal with or repair the damaged lives. Georgia should seal off the door to this maze.

How can Georgia do this? Make child abuse prevention a priority to save children's lives, save taxpayer dollars, and enhance public safety.

Save lives: For every 100,000 children in the US, 2.33 children die because of abuse or neglect—over 1700 children each year nationally; more than one child a week in Georgia. Children who are not killed by the abuse and neglect are likely to suffer lifelong effects from the maltreatment, as they are more prone to physical and mental health problems.

Prevent crime: Most abused children will not commit crimes, but most criminals were victimized as children. Severe abuse and neglect can permanently change children’s brains, making them less able to learn empathy and properly interpret human interactions and more likely to become involved with the justice system.

Save money: Child abuse is expensive. In 2007, Prevent Child Abuse America estimated that the annual cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States was $103.8 billion.

What prevention activities will keep kids safe in Georgia? Build on successful initiatives such as Strengthening Families Georgia, SafeCare, and changes to the Children’s Code that will increase support for troubled families to keep them out of juvenile court. Invest in evidence-based home visitation, quality early childhood education, an effective child abuse reporting process, and appropriate responses to abuse reports. Finally, support parents, strengthen families, and develop protective factors in families and communities.

Home visitation: the National SafeCare Training and Research Institute, an evidence-based home visitation program for parents who are at-risk or have been reported for child maltreatment, is located at Georgia State University. The Georgia Department of Human Services is working with SafeCare, a model that keeps children safe in their homes and keeps children out of the social services system maze. Georgia is poised to expand access to high quality, evidence-based, voluntary early childhood home visitation services because it has received $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for this purpose. This grant is being administered by the Governor’s Office of Children and Families.

Quality early childhood education: High quality early education programs, especially those that involve parents, enhance physical, emotional and social well-being of children and provide protective factors for families that buffer children from abuse. The benefits of high-quality early learning experiences extend into adulthood, reducing the likelihood that these children will abuse their own children.

Improve reporting process: The goal of a child abuse reporting process is to get useful reports of child maltreatment to the right people at the right time. The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect found that the vast majority of maltreated children are never identified as victims. Georgia needs a reporting process that is easy for mandated reporters and the public to use and has clearly identified high-value performance metrics.

Appropriate responses: Georgia needs an array of timely, individually crafted responses to incidents of child maltreatment. Children should be protected in their homes whenever possible, waiting lists for services should be eliminated and the effectiveness of responses that Georgia offers needs to be evaluated.

In April, concerned citizens around the country are planting pinwheels in parks and courthouse lawns. Instead of planting pinwheels, Georgia has an opportunity to plant the seeds of a long-term, comprehensive, effective plan to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Karen Worthington, JD, is a juvenile justice and child welfare consultant and writer based in Hawaii. She is an affiliated faculty member of the Emory University Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative and a senior fellow with the Emory Law Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

Jamal Hutchinson is Holding to Holder’s Words

Last June, I had the privilege of being elected to the board of directors of a non-profit in Nashville known as All The King’s Men www.AKMNashville.org.

The mission of AKM is pretty straightforward: We strive to reduce the disproportionate minority contact and confinement amongst the young male population across the United States with the Juvenile Court System.

Over the past 10 years, I have been blessed with opportunities to serve as a youth advocate, youth program specialist and as an educator to at-risk youth socially and academically.

These have been rewarding experiences. But I have also seen some disturbing issues over the past decade, including the number of young lives adversely impacted by the juvenile courts, failing schools and failing neighborhoods, as well as the lack of financial support for programs to serve the youth.

Our CEO of AKM, Eric Capehart, reported to the Board of Directors that in Davidson County and Nashville, African American children account for only 38 percent of the total population of children under 18, but African American males make up the highest percentage of children referred to juvenile court in Nashville-Davidson County.

These statistics continue to increase with no end in sight. However, a recent speech by Attorney General Eric Holder provides hope and support for youth advocates and our youth who are involved with the juvenile system.

Attorney General Holder doesn’t hide behind those racially-charged questions dealing with the juvenile justice system. The statistics show that African Americans are still at the bottom of the totem pole in the juvenile justice system and programs like “Scared Straight” are not effective.

As youth advocators, we must take a more scientific approach to programs that aim to reduce the disproportionate minority contact and confinement of our youth. As the attorney general said, “We also must adopt a comprehensive plan of action -- one that engages law-enforcement partners, medical professionals, social services providers, lawyers, parents, teachers, coaches, mentors and community leaders.”

Essentially, collaboration and coalition building must be part of the new paradigm shift for program development. In Nashville-Davidson County, a task force has been established to investigate the disproportionate minority contact and confinement, a great step for our community.

Our next step in Nashville has to be to collaborate and to build a coalition with the education system, which includes the higher learning universities and the public education system.

As Attorney General Holder said “…it’s time to broaden our approach to juvenile justice.”

We must invest in effective programs. We must take a holistic approach to saving our youth. We must support nonprofits like All The Kings Men, Inc., that has shown that after 12 months of mentoring, participants are not reentering or having contact with the juvenile justice system. We must build strong coalitions and find ways to collaborate across various sectors.

As an old Whitney Houston song goes, “I believe the children are our future, but we as advocates and the like must protect their future.”

Jamal Hutchinson, Ed. S., & M.P.A.

Accomplished Educator & Youth Specialist

Jamal.s.Hutchinson@gmail.com