Point of View
I agree with Jason Moreno’s very thoughtful Nov. 22 letter (“We failed young men as a community”)and his premise that we as a community are responsible for every child and that every child has an impact on the fabric of our community. What I cannot agree with, having worked as the Elkhart County Juvenile Court Magistrate for 12 years, is that our community sits by idly and does nothing to change the fate of at-risk children.
I hesitate to call out programs and people because I will inevitably miss someone, but a call-out is in order because it is important that we all recognize the innovation and efforts being made to change the lives of children here in Elkhart County. There is still work to be done, but there is a lot going on.
I point to former Concord High School Principal Rob Staley, who recognized the need for an alternative educational opportunity for children who are expelled from or cannot thrive in traditional school and started The Crossing alternative school. I also point to the generous donors who make this private educational option a reality. And I am grateful that this school is willing to enroll the juvenile delinquents I see every day in my court.
I point to Adrian Riley, who is an employee of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department. He started a program for at-risk boys in the Juvenile Justice System to show them there is a different path than being a thug. Recently he took a number of youths on a campus visit to Notre Dame, and thanks again to the generosity of the community, also took them to a Notre Dame football game. Some of these young men are currently discussing starting a business.
I point to the Elkhart Community Schools, which have partnered with Oaklawn in an effort to change the behaviors of young children before they ever get into trouble. I have heard more than one educator, including my sister in-law, suggest that teachers can often predict as early as kindergarten which children will be in trouble with the law later in life. Elkhart schools are using that knowledge and trying to change behaviors and prevent a child from throwing his or her life away in later years.
I point to Ellen Moore and the CARES program that gives volunteers the privilege of working with an at-risk child in school so that they are no longer at risk, and can be a community asset.
I point to Dr. Susan Taccheri, a child psychiatrist, who will staff the cases involving juvenile delinquents with probation officers, without charge, in an effort to find effective treatment options instead of incarceration.
I point to hundreds of CASA volunteers who work with abused and neglected children. Their job is to make sure the system takes care of these children. And one of the hoped-for results is that by caring for victimized children at a young age, they will not victimize others later in life.
I point to Bashor Home and its many programs. Among those programs are those that address truancy, shoplifting and addiction. I am awed by the innovation and compassion I have seen at Bashor over the years.
There are children who fall between the cracks. But I see efforts every day to plug the holes and attempt to keep children from falling to a fate none of us want for those children. Some might say that it is impossible to save every child. Muhammad Ali once said “Impossible is a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”
There are a lot of big men and women in our community attempting to achieve the impossible. But not every child who has been through the juvenile system responds. For that reason, we need more ideas; we need even more community ownership of these children. Because, as Jason Moreno so eloquently stated, every child who falls through the cracks is a problem that belongs to us all.
Deborah Domine is magistrate of Elkhart County’s juvenile court.