As part of KARA’s TPT documentary project I interviewed Minneapolis City Councilman / Mayoral candidate Don Samuels recently. He described his experiences as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, North Side resident, and city councilman that were relevant to child well-being and child protection.
Don had insightful observations about how much better it is for children and the community when a child protection system concentrates on the needs of that at risk child at the moment of need instead of the systematic institutional approach that occurred each time he (Don) saw a child engaged in the child protection system.
He spoke of being in the courtroom representing a child as a CASA guardian ad-Litem, noting that the child had an attorney, the mother and father each had attorneys (they were divorced), there were social workers and a health worker for the child, the County Attorney, and the usual bailiff, Judge, and courtroom staff, and the huge costs related to all these people in this courtroom trying to make justice happen (not necessarily in the best interest of the child).
The Don Samuels story that will stick with me forever is the five year old boy (call him James) trying to commit suicide by jumping out a third story window at school. Because the boy’s terrified teacher could find no mental health resources for James, she called her City Council member, Don Samuels for help. Don became involved with James over about fifteen years years and came to know the traumatic life the boy lived and the very bad outcomes James kept having from the institutional care he received.
Traumatized children don’t do well in school, nor do they cope well with peers, or their community. Left alone, their chances of unlearning trauma and terrible behaviors without help is slim and so unfair to a child.
If the child’s family cannot deliver the necessary conditions to help a child succeed in school, thrive, and learn coping skills, the community must step forward or the odds for failure and a dysfunctional lifestyle are exceedingly high.
About a year ago, Don encountered James, now about 21 years old, at a residential treatment center that he (Don) had been asked to speak at. This young man was foggy with drugs (legal or illegal) and did not even recognize his old advocate and friend.
As we talked in the interview, Don speculated that this child, now adult, had cost the County huge sums of money to this point. Future prison costs alone could add several million dollars over a lifetime. That doesn’t touch on the costs of crime, higher insurance rates, the lower quality of life experienced by the thousands of innocent families living in less safe neighborhoods with extra deadbolts and great fear for their children’s safety (nor does it include any money for families that suffer break ins/vandalism/rape/or assaults that are so common in troubled communities).
It seemed so obvious listening to Don talk about how important a child centered approach to child protection/child well-being is to saving children, saving communities, and saving money. The televised interview will do a better job of relating the story than I have here (watch for it).