Pubdate: Fri, 22 Nov 2002
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2002 Times Daily
Author: Mike Goens, Senior Editor


FLORENCE - Do you know what your children are doing when you're not around?

The fear among members of the Children's Policy Council in Lauderdale 
County is that many parents don't have the right answer to that question.

They point to juvenile crime and drug abuse figures to enforce their point.

Lauderdale ranks 59th among Alabama's 67 counties in juvenile substance 
abuse rate and 45th in juvenile violent crime arrests, based on 2001 
statistics compiled as part of the Kids Count.

Only four counties in Alabama have a worse rate in terms of the number of 
juveniles referred to the judicial system as a result of substance abuse, 
and Lauderdale is 42nd in the number of juveniles referred to the court 
system as a result of juvenile crime.

Those areas are scars on the county's overall superb performance on 
children issues. The county is the fourth best in the state overall, 
according to the survey.

"Those are disturbing trends," said Alice Yeager, executive director of the 
policy council. "Substance abuse and violent crimes are areas where we have 
seen worsening conditions.

"Our focus on this council is to reduce the negative trends for our youths. 
That's the best way for us to improve their opportunities for a better 
future and to improve our area."

The Children's Policy Council has been formed for that purpose, and Yeager 
is among a group on the council considering those issues to be a priority.

Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Larry Mack Smith, who organized the 
council, said he sees the negative impact of substance abuse and violent 
crimes among juveniles too often.

That led him to forming a Substance Abuse and Violence Education committee 
to look into the problem and possible solutions.The committee heard from 
those most closely affiliated with the problem - teenagers.

A group of students met with the committee and

revealed their perspective of what leads to juvenile problems. Yeager said 
the perspective was "eye-opening."

"They told us what they're doing and that the substance abuse - whether 
it's with alcohol, prescription drugs or nonprescription drugs - depends on 
the community," Yeager said. "They said most of the parents of kids 
involved in those things have no clue what their children are doing.

"It's true. There are a lot of good parents out there who don't know. There 
are some parents who might know and do nothing and other parents who don't 

The policy council is preparing to kick off an awareness program. The 
committee, which is made up of ministers, support agencies, educators, law 
enforcement and other groups, is gathering information and trying to come 
up with a plan to contact the proper people.

"The schools have a captive audience - the kids, but the question is how do 
we get the word out to parents that we have major problem."

Yeager said the county's numbers in the substance abuse and violent crime 
areas could be somewhat skewed because the area aggressively monitors those 
areas. He said some counties do not keep accurate records.

"We might be doing a thorough job here and there could be other factors, 
but we know without a doubt that we have problems," she said. "We want to 
improve that situation."

The committee will address barriers that might stand in the way of getting 
help to juveniles.

Yeager said there has been discussion about making parents more accountable 
when their children get into trouble. She said one thought is to have 
parents involved in a mandatory program.

It's a program Smith endorses.

"There's not an overnight cure," Yeager said. "We need to plan carefully 
and make sure we come up with a way to help juveniles and reach our goal of 
reducing this problem."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth