A recent conversation with a metro police chief opened my eyes to how failing to provide resources to officers dealing with troubled youth makes policing much harder— the results much less positive.
The chief was clear about his commitment to (and understanding of) best practices in dealing with at-risk youth. He has participated in multiple community programs that work for seriously troubled kids. He radiates his genuine desire to make policing a solution for kids and not another link in the path to prison. He has helped launch youth skill-building options and other positive approaches law enforcement can employ to meet the ever-growing need of solutions for at-risk kids.
Without these tools, many of these children become longtime state wards while making our city streets uncomfortable and unsafe, filling jails and prisons instead of classrooms and jobs.
Here’s the reality: politics and a public’s desire to punish can exceed its desire to understand and to heal.
This is a bitter pill for a concerned police chief always hoping for better outcomes. Without quality alternatives available, officers are forced to be just one more link in the chain, dragging juveniles into the criminal justice system and a dysfunctional life.
Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz says it this way, “The difference between that poor child and a felon is about eight years,” and “90% of the youth in juvenile justice have passed through child protection.”
The public’s lack of awareness, concern and support of other people’s children is also impacting service providers in other areas. Teachers, social workers, foster and adoptive parents also find inadequate resources for programs that could change outcomes for children, families and classrooms throughout our communities.
Left with a punishment model and few resources to provide positive alternatives, students drop out, schools fail, and teacher turnover is high. It’s really hard to manage troubled children in classrooms today.
We the public find it easier to blame “bad teachers” and “bad social workers” instead of recognizing the deep need for training, programs and policies that help troubled children and the families they come from (and the families they are about to have).
Skill building and mental health resources for at-risk youth works. Not having these resources hurts children and makes the work and lives of social workers, teachers and law enforcement exponentially harder than it needs to be. It’s incumbent on the public—on us—to support the professionals on the front lines with our at-risk kids.