Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tommy Wells moves legislation towards passage

Councilmember Tommy Wells today moved a package of legislation targeting a series of improvements to DC adoptions, youth services and prevention of juvenile crime.

“The culmination of today’s package of bills is the product of a systematic approach to improving services for youth, create more stable and permanent homes, and to prevent juvenile crime that threatens the safety of our neighborhoods,” stated Councilmember Tommy Wells. Many of the laws passed today are the outgrowth of Councilmember Wells’ Juvenile Crime Task Force convened last year.

The two bills outlined below will have their final vote in two weeks.

Data-Sharing and Information Coordination Amendment Act of 2010

This bill responds to the recommendations in the aftermath of the tragedy of the Jacks-Fogle children. Their tragic deaths highlighted a lack of connectivity in the District’s social safety net to serve its residents effectively and save lives. The OIG noted in its independent review that:

“Linking the various parts of this network will be difficult: a new environment of control and connectivity is needed in order to create within the system a safety net that could help prevent a single instance of human error or neglect from imperiling a family or person in need…”

The legislation creates a combined data system shared by a cross-section of safety net and youth services providers. This bill will be subject to a final vote on June 29, 2010.

Councilmember Wells moved an amendment to break through barriers created by strict confidentiality laws that at times have served to disconnect and isolate at-risk youth and families, while also preventing accountability of decision makers by the community. After vigorous debate, he agreed to a request from his colleagues to postpone the vote for two weeks to allow further public discussion.

Specifically, the amendment creates a connection with the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) and law enforcement officers to share information about a youth and at-risk behavior with persons that work with the youth in an official capacity – such as school officials, athletic coaches, mental health professionals, public housing resident managers, and religious leaders.

Councilmember Tommy Wells noted, “In a practical example, a youth may have skipped a few days of school, been kicked out of a recreation center for a fight, and been stopped by police for riding in a stolen vehicle. Taken alone, each of these instances are concerning, but may not raise all the red flags needed. Current law prohibits DYRS and the police from alerting anyone to a potential problem through sharing information about the youth with his teacher, coach, and pastor for example. This amendment breaks down those barriers.”

Wells will also move an amendment in two weeks to improve neighborhood accountability and transparency by requiring the city to report juvenile arrest data at the neighborhood level so that decisions can be made to target limited resources where they’ll make the biggest impact. The report however does not include the youth’s name or address. “Rather than only focus on where a crime takes place, this allows us to review where youth who are arrested reside so that we can invest resources in those neighborhoods,” added Wells.

Safe Children and Safe Neighborhood Educational Neglect Amendment Act of 2010

This bill reinstitutes a policy that existed in the District until August of 2009, reducing to 10 the number of unexcused absences a child can accumulate before being referred to CFSA for educational neglect. The change will allow District agencies to collaborate more effectively to keep children safe and in school.

Wells stated, “We have a crisis on our hands with unexcused absences. The belief that school attendance is optional is simply not acceptable – for the child or the parent.”

Of the nearly 27,000 children in DC traditional public schools -- grades K through 8 -- nearly 8,000 (30%) accumulated 10 days of or more of unexcused absences in a year. In our public charter schools, nearly 5,700 (35%) of 16,000 K through 8 students accumulated 10 or more unexcused absences last year.

Wells added, “We know that chronic truancy is linked to delinquent behavior and lower educational achievement. Absenteeism is a problem we have to tackle head on.”

No one can forget the tragedy of the Jacks-Fogle children. Three of the Jacks-Fogle children were in elementary school and all had missed over a month of school. Yet, only the 16-year-old was referred for truancy to DC Superior Court. The elementary school-aged children – ages 5, 6, and 11 – were not reported for possible educational neglect and their schools did not engage CFSA to investigate their absences.

This legislation won initial approval today and will be subject to a final vote on June 29, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. It is very good to see this legislation. There is absolutely NO reason for the city council not to pass this and we will be watching for this in two weeks. This is an excellent first step, but there is still much more to do to hold DYRS and the DC Juvenile Justice System accountable for their failures and refusal to address these failures. Again, this move from Mr. Wells is most appreciated and I hope he continues to pay attention to this issue.