The PINS reform legislation, effective April 1, 2005, is potentially the most irresponsible reform legislation in two decades. The rhetoric of the legislation would like you to believe that it is child centered, not punitive and hopefully rehabilitative and transforming.
Unfortunately, the legislation is in effect already. There is no real plan and candidly, the way the State is attempting to implement this new legislation is only going to exacerbate the problem among troubled teens and their families. It will effectively keep teens and families out of Family Court, which has already proven to be overburdened and understaffed. Thus making it pretty ineffective to start with.
After one who is in the field of helping troubled kids reads this legislative reform, one gets the impression that the state is more interested in saving money than in helping kids in trouble.
Once again, they talk the rhetoric of prevention, diversion and intervention, but are not willing to allocate the funds to implement diversion appropriately. As of April 1, 2005, PINS Diversion is mandatory throughout the state. Before that date, it was being experimented with in a variety of counties. Suffolk County was one county that elected to use diversion. It has been in place for a number of years. From day one, it has never been properly staffed with the appropriate number of probation officers and mental health workers to do the job.
It sounds wonderful on paper. In reality, for many it is a disaster. It sets young people and families up for failure.
How does any reform in Suffolk County have a chance of success when we have a County Executive who is squeezing as much money as he can out of major departments that are set up to help people?
Probation and other human service departments are being cut. Personnel who are expensive (and experienced) are being urged out and are not being replaced. Those who stay are being asked to do more for less.
Contracted agencies are being abused beyond belief. They are expected to be creative, cost effective and extremely efficient with budgets that are scandalously inhumane. The salaries that they expect college graduates to accept for very demanding work could not be lived on unless one lived in the mountains of the Ukraine.
We will see fewer and fewer agencies that are able to tolerate this injustice. Those human services that can endure this social mayhem will employ people that do not have the appropriate credentials to do what must be done.
The chaos this new PINS reform legislation is going to cause in our county will have cataclysmic consequences.
The one thing that parents had in Suffolk County that could assist them with their out of control children was PINS and PINS diversion. Although it was weak and oftentimes inadequate, at least it was something. When a cooperative effort was employed, it was effective and helpful. Unfortunately, that didn't happen as often as was needed, but it was something.
Contrary to what the bureaucrats tell us, the need is epidemic and growing. Unfortunately, the resources are dwindling and becoming less accessible at an alarming rate.
Since there is not a plan in place to implement this reform and seemingly no one to answer the endless list of questions, I anticipate a lethal disaster in the very near future.
Just listen in passing to parents who have junior high and high school students. You will hear of the growing incidents of anti social behavior, violence, cutting class and cutting whole days of school. Many schools because of fiscal difficulties have already cut critical support staff from their budgets. This new reform talks about schools doing more, but they cannot manage what they should now. How are they going to do more?
This new legislation puts more pressure on parents doing more, i.e. counseling and holding their out of control children accountable. Therein lies a major problem. Many parents are trying to do their part. However, when a fourteen year old is defiant and refuses to accept consequences, it is almost impossible to hold him or her accountable. At least before April 1st, as a tool of accountability, one could use Diversion and/or PINS to help.
Counseling seems to be the magic word when a teenager is out of control. In principle, it sounds like a positive strategy that in theory could work. The average out of control teenager will not go to counseling on the recommendation of his or her parent and/or school. If the truth be told, even mandated teenagers on a good day are hard to engage in a positive way. So, even under the old system of court mandated counseling, counseling was hard to enforce.
The other area that no one seems to want to address is where are all of these non-existing resources going to come from and who is going to pay for them?
Counseling is definitely an important resource to assist families and out of control teenagers. However, where are the licensed mental health professionals to be found, especially if parents have poor to no insurance? Even agencies that have a sliding scale have a scale that begins at twenty-five dollars a session.
If you are a single Mom and don't drive, now you have to pay an extra twenty-five dollars a week plus cab fare for something that is vital. However, what struggling middle class parent has an extra thirty-five or forty dollars in their budget for mental health?
What about the growing number of younger teens who are now getting involved with gangs and are already hooked on serious drugs? Where are the resources for them and their parents?
We spend an awful lot of money on human services and so called preventive services. Maybe before we reform laws without a clear action plan, we should first have all the facts on the breath and depth of the problem. Instead of fancy rhetoric that really says nothing, how about trying to create an action plan that really values children at risk and their families? How about trying to create something that will effectively make a difference and not further set kids up for failure?
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