U.S. teens' problems a 'human, national tragedy,' research group reports

June 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The problems facing America's youth are so severe that the situation amounts to "a human and national tragedy," according to a National Research Council report released Tuesday.

The document, which involved no new research or statistics, was prepared by reviewing existing studies on the subject. The council report also offered no solutions, except to urge the nation's policy-makers to give a high priority to research and programs that could improve the well-being of America's young people.

While he acknowledged that the study repeats what numerous other studies have said, "the fact that this report is another in a long line should increase everyone's concern," said Joel F. Handler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as chairman of the panel. "We believe that the problems of America's young people are getting significantly worse, not better."

The report squarely placed the blame on deteriorating environments -- such as homes, neighborhoods and schools -- which in some cases "have actually become dangerous," Mr. Handler said.

"Describing the destructive effects of high-risk settings is far easier than recommending specific policy and program changes," the report said.

The National Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, which are private, non-profit, congressionally chartered institutions that provide science and technology advice to the federal government.

The panel said that more children and teen-agers are growing up in neighborhoods in which a high percentage of adults are poor, unemployed or on welfare. Many are single parents. These settings contribute to school dropout rates, teen-age parenthood and violent crime, the report said.

Within families, the need for financial security -- which in many cases means increased work outside the home for many parents -- and demographic changes that have resulted in many single-parent homes has resulted in more adolescents who fail to receive "the nurturing environment necessary for positive development," the report said.

Life is "much bleaker," however, for those children who come from "destructive or dysfunctional" families and must rely on the child welfare system as a "safety net," the panel said. The system often excludes adolescents, does not protect them from known abuse and even abandons them, the group said.

Moreover, the current structure of the health care system is so "fragmented" that it fails to address the needs of young people, the panel said. Most teens do not have access to primary care and existing services generally "do not protect against the most serious health risks facing adolescents," such as substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, physical and sexual abuse and pregnancy, the panel said.

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