If institutions are to be defined by what they create instead of what they were designed to create, Kathleen Long Angels and Demons what would an objective analysis tell us today?

How are our schools functioning, what are the results from foster care, is juvenile justice serving its purpose, do the courts work, and how successful is our prison system?

Internationally, our high school performance has fallen from world leader to trailing in almost every category. We now compare ourselves to “emerging nations” so that we are 43rd out of 121 emerging countries instead of 21st out of the 24 industrialized nations in language, math, history, physics, and most other subjects.

25% of America’s high school graduates are functionally illiterate upon graduation; one out of three of them could not find Florida on a recent map test. In Minneapolis, the sister school (Roosevelt) to the one I attended (Edison) has graduated under 30% of its students over the last three years, the city average graduation rate is just over 55%.

Former MN Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz stated that 90% of the youth in the juvenile justice system had come through the state’s child protection system (almost all criminal justice inmates come out of the juvenile justice system). Nationally, almost 25% of juveniles are tried as adults in the U.S. and a growing number of states allow children 13 and 14 years old to be tried in adult courts.

A recent study indicates that up to 80% of children aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives. A Minnesota judge has provided me the Prozac, Ritalin, and other psychotropic medication prescriptions taken by children in her courtroom (most of them under ten years old) and it points at one of the key issues thay might explain why so many youth leaving the foster care program find it hard to cope with life.

In my experience in the child protection system as a guardian ad-Litem, it is a rare state ward that has found adequate mental health services (many of them are proscribed psychotropic medications with minimal professional help). Traumas experienced in the birth home and the following court process of removal leave permanent and painful scars. To treat these traumas with psychotropic medications and no long term / consistent therapy leaves children with problem behaviors and poor coping skills for the rest of their lives.

America has more people in prison per capita than any other nation. We also have more criminals and violent crime than any other industrialized nation. Nationally, 13% of Black men can’t vote because they are felons. In Minneapolis, 44% of African American men were arrested in 2001 (no duplicate arrests) African American Men’s Study

If we are to define our criminal justice system by what it creates, it is successful in building more prisons than any other nation, maintaining terrifically high recidivism rates, keeping inmates in longer, and capturing huge percentages of African American men in the process. 


Similarly, if we define the our child protection and juvenile justice systems by what they create, most of the inmates in criminal justice come from juvenile justice, and almost all of the youth in juvenile justice (in Minnesota) come from child protection services. It follows that children in child protection have a terrific potential for entering the criminal justice system.

It is painful for me as a citizen/guardian ad-Litem to watch the impact of mistreated (in their birth homes and as state wards) children passing through the system, failing in school, and aging out of foster care going onto lead dysfunctional lives.

What will it take for our communities to recognize that by abandoning the weakest and most vulnerable among us we not only destroy children’s lives but perpetuate chaos and dysfunction in our communities?

Would we care more if we knew the cost to society for thirty to fifty years of institutionalization plus the cost of youth crimes and 14 year old girls having babies?

It is not the people working in these fields that are to be blamed*.

There are millions of educators, foster & adoptive parents, social workers, court and justice personnel and others putting great effort into making life better for struggling children and families.   I am one of them. 

Our schools, courts/justice, child protection systems, and our health systems will not sustain our nation without a commitment to support from our communities and policy makers to do the right thing.

Investing in children is the best investment this nation can make today.   It’s what we are not doing that is expensive. The longer we wait, the more lives will be damaged, and the more it will cost us as a society.   Pass it on.  Consider starting a conversation on this topic in your community.  Join or start a discussion group on this website to begin.

*Blaming teachers (as many politicians do around election time) is not fair or productive.   Teachers don’t teach for fame or wealth, they chose this field because they care about kids, learning, and community.   Teaching is hard work at modest pay (the same can be said for social and  justice workers).

More reading; Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Art Rolnick’s Federal Reserve Board Article
Best wishes,
tu amigos the KARA team