Learning the right lessons from Cheltenham death

February 26, 2010

Unfortunately, it is during times of tragedy that the brightest light is shone on the shortcomings of our systems. The death of Hanna Wheeling, a teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility, is such a tragedy. As we scramble for answers to our numerous unanswered questions, we must not lose focus on what works to put children and youth in the juvenile justice system back on the right path to productive adolescence and adulthood. We must stand on the decades of research that supports evidence-based services such as Multi-Systemic Therapy and Functional Family Therapy for those youth who are able to remain safely in the community and intensive rehabilitative treatment and aftercare modeled after the nationally recognized Missouri model for those youth needing residential placement.

While legislators ask about security and staffing ratios at this particular program, they should ask what services are being delivered to youth to address the underlying causes of delinquency and to prepare youth for returning to their communities. Legislators should demand that the Department of Juvenile Services examine the overall success and failure rates of this program. A successful program is not only one that prevents crimes while youth are there; it prevents crimes from occurring after they leave.

Angela Conyers Johnese, Baltimore

The writer is juvenile justice director of Advocates for Chilren and Youth.

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