Someday in Mecklenburg County:
Charlotte Police Officer Jones picked 12-year-old James up outside a local mall about 11:30 a.m., a curfew violation. James is 50032-321 in the “database.” The 321 meant James’s mother abused drugs and was unmarried.
Officer Jones logged the contact with 50032-321, noting that a sister, age 16, opened the door when he took James home around midnight. She said his mother was working.
School counselor Smith got the “alert” on 50032.321 on her computer at 7 a.m. She pulled Officer Jones’ full report. She had had recent contact with James, who was among a group verbally abusing a new student in the cafeteria.
The counselor forwarded the “alert” to the assistant principal in charge of discipline and to James’ homeroom teacher. Later, about 9 a.m., the teacher e-mailed her that James was not at school yet.
The counselor e-mailed the police department’s Youth Task Force that James was not in school, referencing Officer Jones’ report and her own.
The task force assigned an officer to do a ‘ride-by’ of James’ address to see if he was home and if he was okay. If possible, the task force wanted to make face-to-face contact with James’ mother.
She was still in her work uniform when she answered the door to the officers, recognizing one from the ‘old days.’ They found James asleep in his closet. His mother dragged him out by his collar and gave him five minutes to be ready so she could take him to school. The officers said they would take him.
She thanked the officers and offered to bake them apple pies if they’d help her keep an eye on James. No pie was necessary, they told her, they would keep an eye on him.
I don’t know how many troubled and endangered youngsters there are in Mecklenburg County, but I’m sure it’s a finite number, perhaps 10,000 or as many as 50,000. No one seems to know for sure. Computerized database servers can manage that number of individuals easily. We do it all the time to keep track of employees and customers. That’s why we all use Harris Teeter’s VIC and Food Lion’s MVP cards?
We can and should do the same with our children. Perhaps we could prevent the kinds of family and community breakdowns that spill so much violence and despair onto our streets.
We must realize – again – that children, even the violent ones, are more likely victims and should be treated as such. And, since we know that many of life’s early events influence behavior years later, we must do a better job of preventing juvenile delinquency by being pro-active in those early years.
Our children are not born as gun-toting miscreants. They sink to that level based on how they are treated by the adults in their lives. To save them we must find a way to keep better track of them.
Here’s how the system could work. Let’s call it something like “Comprehensive Youth Services Delivery System.”
First, the community determines that it has a duty to keep track of all children who become victims of abuse, neglect, lead paint, etc. As such, any time a police officer finds a child at the scene of a violent assault or homicide, or a social worker is called to deal with a case of abuse or a child is sexually or otherwise assaulted, that child goes into the “database.”
That information would be available, with appropriate security protections, to police officers, school counselors, social workers, and the health care system. Everyone would have information about troubled and endangered children. And, where appropriate, information could be added. In fact, the database could issue routine alerts, say annually or bi-annually, for social workers to check up on children in the system. Serious cases may require more frequent checks. In other cases, check ups could be less often.
Liberals and conservatives might oppose such a tracking system. Conservatives would simply rather cry “parental responsibility” than provide the initial funding required to set up the system. Liberals will probably oppose tracking children and cite the warehousing of information as a violation of their civil rights.
However, youth crime, poor school performance, teen pregnancies, and other negative youth behaviors are persistent problems with long-term detrimental effect on our community. What we do now is expensive. A pro-active plan could reduce costs and save lives and families.
Once we can count the number of troubled and endangered children, we can set reasonable goals for monitoring and treating them.