September 19, 2018

Tough times to come of age

Growing up is never easy, but these are particularly tough times for young people in West Virginia, given the opioid crisis, the ballooning foster care population, hard economic times, trauma and all that. As we've argued many times in the past, state bureaucracies seem more comfortable disciplining or confining young people than finding out what's really going on.

That's one of the reasons the two American Friends Service Committee projects in WV teamed up to work on a listening project. Over the last year, we surveyed and interviewed over 100 high school students and people who work closely with them. The results are summarized in this report, including many quotes by those we interviewed.

Some themes were loud and clear (buy you'll have to click the link to see them).

The title came from a moving interview we did with some young men in a day report center in Boone County. One of them said "This could really be a beautiful state if we fix it." Can't sum it up any better than that.

A little background.... A couple years ago, the legislature considered passing a Mental Health Matters bill. The idea was to put together a task force on juvenile mental health to see what we have and, most importantly, what we don't.

It was a kittens, angels and puppies bill that would have cost the state little or nothing but might have eventually helped a lot of kids. Guess what? It died, probably because union busting seemed like more of a priority to the legislative majority.

As we argued in a report we released last fall, the next step in juvenile justice reform in WV would be assessing the mental health needs of young people facing suspension or out of home placement and whenever possible referring them to treatment rather than punishment.