Department of Justice to Investigate St. Louis County Family Court

Picture from freerepublic.com

Across the country each day, family and Juvenile courts have children passing by their benches on the way to a future that may involve severe limitations on their freedom.  Armored in the protections of the constitution and federal law, each child should have a fair and just trial and, if applicable, appropriate rehabilitations and punishments.  This should all transpire blind to all but truth.  Occasionally we wonder however if lady justice is peeking from behind her blindfold, and if what she is seeing is guiding her sword hand.  The Department of Justice is asking this question with regard to St. Louis county family courts:

The Justice Department announced today [November 18] that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation of the Family Court of St. Louis.  The investigation will focus on whether the court provides constitutionally required due process to all children appearing for delinquency proceedings and whether the court’s administration of juvenile justice provides equal protection to all children regardless of race.

This investigation will include a comprehensive review of policies, procedures, court documents and statistical data.  As part of this investigation, the department will reach out to juvenile justice stakeholders, including community members and groups with knowledge of the Family Court’s processes.

In this investigation the focus seems to be on self-improvement,

“Protecting the constitutional rights of all children appearing in court is critical to achieving our goals of improving juvenile courts, increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system and maintaining public safety,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “During the course of this investigation, we will consider all relevant information, particularly any efforts the court has undertaken to ensure compliance with the Constitution and federal law.”

While any wrongdoing is yet to be determined, in a system ran by fallible people it is nice to know that when these questions arise the system is occasionally willing to self-correct.  These investigations are rare, however there have been a few over the last handful of years leading to lawsuits and settlements across the country.  When our blindfolds start to slip, its nice to know we can be willing to set down our sword and scale long enough to tighten the knots on our blindfold.

 

What to do with the Tragedy of Bullying?

Photo credit to guardianlv.com

October is National Bullying Prevention month.  It is a time when, as a community, we should be educating our children on what bullying is and its potential consequences.  This is not merely a complicated topic for our children.  Our legal system is struggling to find the line between preventing tragedy while still holding those responsible who are at fault when the repercussions from bullying become tangible, and not overstepping the bounds of how we treat our children regarding privacy, free speech, and parents rights.

An arrest was made Tuesday in Florida of two young girls linked to the suicide death of a classmate. As reported by ABC news:

Authorities in central Florida said Rebecca was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death Sept. 9. But the two girls arrested were primarily the ones who bullied Rebecca, the sheriff said. They have been charged with stalking and released to their parents.

Rebecca is one of at least a dozen or so suicides in the past three years that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying.

Legal questions remain related to whether or not the parents will be charged and the extent of any punishment if in fact the girls are found guilty of the charges.

None of this, however, brings Rebecca back to her family.  Punitive action, which has typically had little influence on this age group anyway, is on the wrong side of the timeline.  This is less a legal question and more one of education policy, parental and student education, and resources for teens experiencing bullying.  There are curriculums out there for awareness and prevention.  There are support groups, hotlines, and trained professionals who are available.  And there are, of course, repercussions for when it goes too far.  We can’t always stop children from being awful to each other, but it is our duty to prevent these tragedies from occurring with whatever resources or strategies we have available.  Find a way you can help this month and beyond with your local school, through PACER (who spearheads Bullying Prevention Month), or just with your children at home.

Head Start Held Back by Government Shutdown

Photo from policymic.com

As the government shutdown begins this month, many Americans have yet to feel the pinch in their personal lives.  A few days without select federal programs may seem somewhat less earth shattering in it’s reality than it may have seemed in the whirlwind of news bytes and buzz words leading up to midnight of September 30th.  This however is not the case for everyone.  Many non-essential federal programs that are undergoing furlough are crucial in the lives of the most vulnerable of our citizens, our children.  As reported by The Hechinger Report:

The biggest immediate impact could be felt in Head Start programs, though, which are still reeling from federal sequestration cuts that pushed 57,000 children out of the preschool program for low-income children. According to the National Head Start Association (NHSA), an advocacy group, 23 programs in 11 states with grant cycles that begin Oct. 1 are poised to lose grant money due to the shutdown.

“Beyond the headline numbers, this shutdown has real consequences,” said NHSA Director Yasmina Vinci in a statement. “Government shutdown is one cut atop an already deep wound.”

In Prentiss, Miss., a town of about 1,100 people an hour south of Jackson, the Five County Child Development Program closed its Head Start classes on Tuesday after failing to receive funding. “The only funds we have coming in are the federal dollars,” said Jonathan Bines, director of the Head Start program, which serves about 900 children.

As the shutdown proceeds, more and more families with children will be looking for alternatives to their head start program.  In many households, this will mean a parent or family member staying home from work.  These repercussions are already being felt:

Bines says he has received phone calls from parents who are struggling to deal with the closure. In Jefferson Davis County, where Prentiss is located, the median household income is about $26,000, and about one out of every four residents lives in poverty.

“They don’t have any childcare,” said Bines. “Some of them are working. They’re trying to scramble to find a place to leave their children.”

A harsh reality for parents in low income high turnover jobs is the distinct possibility of job loss.

The political tools of congress people, who will not see an interruption to their pay of around 7 times the amount of these families, are directly impacting the lives of their citizens and voters.  The perceived protections from government overreach are likely to mean little in harsh realities where the relied upon services are removed. We can hope paths and services can be found that will help lessen the impact on our children. Maybe more crucially, we can hope that in the future, Congress will take more cautious aim as to collateral damage as they land their political blows.