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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Help families instead of tearing them apart

Help families instead of tearing them apart
Oct 3, 2010

Written by
Cheryl Hall-Russell

Families are the cornerstone of our society. Educating them and providing supportive services are the key to reducing the number of children who enter the foster care or juvenile justice system.

An article about Department of Child Services removal of Hoosier children from homes stated that in 2009 only five states removed more children than Indiana ("Number of kids taken by DCS up again," Sept. 27). It also indicated a higher rate of removal per 1,000 children than in all surrounding states. While foster care and emergency removal are valid in certain cases such as sexual or physical abuse, prevention is fiscally and emotionally less costly. Often the removal process can be circumvented with early intervention.

In tough economic times, families are particularly vulnerable. Family dynamics are affected as relationships are strained over jobs and budgets.

For example, as families become overwhelmed with parenting and keeping house, their homes and children can begin to reflect an unkempt look that may not reflect true neglect. Removing a child from a messy home is traumatic and can be unnecessary. Teaching family members skills to keep their house clean, allocating chores, setting up a schedule and rewarding children for participating can build families instead of tearing them apart. Loving families want to stay together and maintain healthy lifestyles if given the opportunity.

Instead of supporting preventive approaches, legislators easily divert attention and funds to services that appear focused on fixing a problem that has received media attention. Reacting to a tragedy certainly has higher media impact than training a room full of parents about child development or how to handle preschool defiance. Continuing to throw money after situations, however, simply does not make sense.

Instead of a reactive approach, let's try proactive and allocate money toward some sustainable initiatives such as:

Counseling services for children and families starting to fracture.

Parenting classes.

Training for teen parents.

Independent-living skills training for youth leaving the system so they don't repeat the pattern.

In an article on DelinquencyPrevention. org, author Dr. Neil C. Headman says, "To this day, many programs continue to emphasize services to individual youth who have demonstrated delinquent or pre-delinquent behaviors, without giving sufficient focus to family, neighborhood, and community factors that facilitate or support negative youth behavior."

The Office of Justice Programs has allocated $60 million in discretionary awards to leading national organizations to strengthen, expand and implement youth mentoring activities and youth development programming throughout the nation, according to its website, www.ojjdp.gov. Another $37 million in grants will be directed to local mentoring organizations in fiscal year 2010.

The Indiana system appears designed with a punitive approach: punishment for families who don't have the skills needed to understand their children's development and how to deal with day-to-day issues; and punishment for youth who go against society because they didn't learn what they needed at home to make good decisions.

If we instead channel funding to organizations that support education, referral, training, counseling and support services, maybe fewer Hoosier children will be removed from their homes over the next few years.

Support prevention by funding organizations like Indiana Youth Services Association (www.indysb.org), which focus on the root cause. If legislators take a step back and understand the value of prevention, money can be diverted to these efforts and minimize the damage to families and children from a long-term perspective in the state of Indiana. Statistics are not as alarming where programs for prevention are intact. Let's increase the existing support network.

Maybe we won't have to read about so many tragic stories. Let's create a non-story.

Hall-Russell is CEO of the Indiana Youth Services Association in Indianapolis.

http://www.indystar.com/article/20101003/OPINION01/10030328/Help-families-instead-of-tearing-them-apart

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