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Youth at Risk Programs in America:
The need to modify Children Services Programs
in America

by W.T. Purnell, Jr.

I have had the opportunity to work in the system that deals with youth at risk. My concern is that the system is not working and we continue to allow the system to fail. It is very clear that this problem is across the board and not just a Black Males issue. Youth across cultures are having problems adjusting in today’s society. Most of the problems are related to our value system in America. I believe that our problem is not as complex as we have been lead to believe that it is. Parenting skills are very much a part of the problem and in most of the cases no parent is a part of the problem. (Parents are locked up.) Youth today face major problems in the home environment because of the fact that most parents are not home when children get out of school and very little time is allowed for parents to interact and develop close relationships with these youth that are at risk of being subjects of the criminal justice system. Mothers are left to play the role of both the father and the mother, or in some cases fathers are playing both roles. We have blended families that are also a part of the problem because of the inability of blended families to develop positive relations that involve youths who have problems adjusting to these types of families.

When we consider the problems of the divorces in this country, of parents being locked up, of drug abuse and alcohol abuse, it is clear why we have so many youths at risk. Parents are failing to meet the needs of children and our teachers are becoming both the teacher and parent. When parents fail to provide a stable and safe home environment for children and deal with behaviors at an early stage they are placing the children at risk. We place our teachers and school staff in danger when we fail to take action to deal with Youth at Risk problems and issues in the early childhood stages. Youths are grossly displaced, depressed, and are facing major social adjustment and identity problems and issues across culture in America. Early interventions can help, but we also need to turn our attention to family and children services across America and modify or change the way these services operate. A complete overhaul/modification of this system is much needed.

Parents have a right to discipline children, but don't in most cases for fear of being subjects of Child Abuse. Parents in a lot of cases do not have the skills they need to deal with children and in the case of At Risk Youth the parents themselves are undisciplined. The youths who have behavior problems in most cases are from families that are having major conflicts and problems that maybe affect the ability to relate to children. The early stages of a youth's life are the most critical stages and it is in this period that we are losing them. A way to combat this problem is to provide future parents with parental training. How to be a parent and how to deal with mal-adaptive behaviors in early childhood. Developing a positive peer culture training program in schools would help to reduce behavior problems. Let the students have a voice in making schools safe.

The Children Services programs, based on my experiences working with at risk youth, I would say are in need of an overhaul/ modification of the system dealing with the problem of Youth at Risk. Parents, teachers, counselors and the children social services need to come together and work as a team. Instead of focusing on the problem with the youths involved, it appears that the parents are being subject to abuse by the system designed to help resolve the problem. Punishing parents becomes the focus rather than resolving the problems involving the youths. It is my understanding that our Social Services and Child Welfare Programs are in much need of improvement. America is losing the battle of saving our children and our youth continue to be at risk. It is very clear that we need more positive approaches in dealing with Youth At Risk, and the central focus of the problem is teamwork across the board. Parents, schools, and social services alike need to come together and be united if we are to resolve this problem and win the battle of Leaving no Child Behind.

About the author: W.T. Purnell, Jr., Counseling & Psychology, Alabama A&M University, Retired United States Army NCO.

Published in In Motion Magazine December 1, 2002.

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