Troubled children need home-based treatment solutionsThe...

Letters to the Editor

July 08, 1999

Troubled children need home-based treatment solutions

The Sun's recent coverage of Maryland's juvenile justice system has raised concerns for all of us. Understanding why young people violate basic social rules is critical if we are to help them get back on track.

We know that many in the juvenile justice system need treatment for mental illness. A 1998 report found that 53 percent of Maryland's detained youth had a diagnosable mental disorder and 26 percent needed immediate care.

Research shows that treatment is most effective when when children are treated early in a normal environment. Once a child is removed from home and sent to a psychiatric institution, reintegrating into his or her former home and school setting will be a challenge at best.

Increasing our reliance on treatment in institutional settings would be a knee-jerk reaction to a complex problem that would disrupt the lives of thousands of children and their families. That is why advocates have pushed forcefully for community-based care instead of more institutional treatment of youth.

Yet many Maryland children remain in institutions because community supports are unavailable to them.

Steps needed to put this right include establishing concrete time frames for discharging children instutionalized in the mental health system who could be better served in community settings; and supporting the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's efforts to provide early screening and assessment in the juvenile justice system.

Linda J. Raines, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maryland Inc.

Ways to end discrimination in juvenile justice system

It should come as no surprise that white juveniles in Maryland are usually sent to treatment centers while black juveniles who commit similar offenses are more often sent to state training schools ("Race predicts handling of most young criminals," June 25). This is a tragic, yet common, practice across the country.

Two things must happen for such discrimination to end. First, states must improve the mental health system for adolescents, especially those of color and from low-income families. Well-structured, community-based mental health services can keep young people from committing offenses and from offending again.

Communities must work harder to provide prevention and treatment services for poor, abused and abandoned children, children of color and children with serious emotional disorders -- those children at greatest risk for incarceration.

Second, mental health services must be available to youth in the justice system. Maryland's recently passed legislation requiring mental health screening of such youngsters is an important first step, but it is just a first step.

It is unconscionable to have children who need treatment waiting six months in jail for appropriate placement in a treatment facility.

We applaud Maryland for addressing the unmet mental health needs of young people in the juvenile justice system. Maryland's children deserve better than bureaucratic squabbling over whose job it is to treat them.

Michael M. Faenza, Alexandria, Va.

The writer is president and chief executive officer of the National Mental Health Association.

Hopkins isn't a real `living wage' leader

We applaud the idea that Johns Hopkins University should be a "living wage leader among universities," but the claim of Hopkins Vice President James McGill ("Hopkins is a `living wage' leader among universities," Opinion Commentary, June 2) sounded hollow.

The university's admission that it for years has failed to live up to its responsibilities in this regard (effectively exploiting a low-income, largely African-American labor force) is shocking enough.

That it took so much hard work by students, in alliance with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), to get the university to recognize the urgency of the matter and that it is prepared to wait until 2002 before raising the incomes of its lowest paid to a living wage fixed at 1996 levels strike us as insulting and indecent.

Employees have to buy food now and pay their rent and utility bills on time.

The university owes it to the community, the city and its own tradition to rectify this wrong immediately.

Douglas I. Miles

Chester Wickwire, Baltimore

Mr. Miles is the president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The letter was also signed by 16 other activists.

Why is `choice' hard to understand?

Andrew Todaro's letter argued that opposing abortion is not an extremist position ("Opposing abortion isn't an extremist position," June 17). I agree. It is however, a choice.

Supporting the right to abortion is not an an extremist position either. It is also a choice.

However, the extremists are the radicals, the right-wing religious zealots who blow up Planned Parenthood clinics and kill innocent people in the name of fetal justice. These people are murderers, and they are wrong.

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