Thursday, March 15, 2012

Brooklyn Families Scrutinize the Close to Home Proposal*

NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) held the Brooklyn community forum for the Close to Home program March 13 at NYCHA Van Dyke Community Center. The overcrowded condition had its good point and detraction. It was encouraging to see the range of ages in the packed room and the involvement of the audience during the community discussion segment. Given this was Brooklyn’s only community forum for Close to Home, NYCHA Brooklyn Community Operations ought to have chosen a NYCHA facility that had triple Van Dyke’s capacity. Suggested alternatives would be Penn-Wortman or Louis Pink Houses’ community center. The depth in consideration for the forum’s location underscored the depth of consideration into the Close to Home program. The event’s first few stages described this alternative to upstate detention of juveniles and built a clear framework for community input. Close to Home’s goal is to direct the majority of detained NYC youth to rehabilitation, supervision, and confinement to services near their families, rather than facilities hundreds of miles from New York City. Family members can more easily visit them and educational attainment is a key element. ACS Commissioner Ronald Richter extolled a screening tool that guages the level of detention required for each juvenile that reduces the number in confinement. Close to Home is State legislation pending voting. If passed, New York City can do operational planning. The people’s questions revealed the community’s insight into family dysfunction, juvenile delinquency, disaffection with public school curricula, and inadequacies of city agencies serving youth. There were instances of ACS staff not responding directly to questions and admission of not considering certain events yet, being consistent in needing the community’s input, especially that coming from young people. One young man revealed that he’d been confined three times as a minor. He spent time at Bristol, Lincoln Hall and Boys Town. He found the Upstate facilities had more structure than Boys Town which is located in downtown Brooklyn. He admitted he needed structure. Adults who were parents, nonprofit staff members or part of the clergy raised questions about adequate funding and a wholistic approach that helped families with adjudicated youth. When asked how much money would be saved by providing services in NYC rather than Upstate, ACS Commissioner Richter stated he didn’t know the cost because it has been a State expense. His goal is reducing the numbers in detention. The forum attendees learned from another concerned citizen that NYS expended $240,000 per youth annually at Upstate facilities. This session revealed people were concerned with resolving claims of educational neglect in the face of teens who are determined to be truant. The program’s efficacy is in question given ACS has reduced the number of caseworkers and there is a need for parent advocates and youth advocates. While the Commissioner stated costs weren’t a part of this discussion, the people wanted to talk dollars. One nonprofit manager who had spent 16 years behind bars and now held a doctorate requested that NYC Department of Education and ACS put their funds together to allow funded community-based organizations to conduct intervention programs within public schools. ACS asked a teen how to improve school. The young man attempted an answer; however, he was at a disadvantage because he can only talk about what he’s been exposed to. The more exposure to history, STEM, and global studies from direct experience, school, and other sources, the better anyone can talk about what is lacking. What pupils or truants can adequately talk about is the affect of the teaching-learning environment. This is why youth make such statements as “school is boring.” The community forums will be held in each borough. The Queens forum was scheduled for March 14; the Manhattan forum is scheduled for March 16;Staten Island's forum is scheduled for March 26; and The Bronx forum is slated for April 2. *Most names withheld due to no prior knowledge of media coverage.

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