This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24, 2006 - Youth Initiative better for community and families

It's a marvel to most adults that we made it this far. At least, I know some of the chances I took as a young adult might well have killed me.

The field of brain development research continues to shed light on all facets of human life. And what we've learned, at least about teenagers, borders on the insulting. Or does it?

In brief, it comes down to this: teenagers have a high predilection for risky business, coupled with a really startling lack of judgment.

Those aren't the same thing. Corporate CEO's routinely take risks -- but usually (or so Wall Street fervently hopes) there's a reason for it. And lack of judgment isn't just lack of experience. You don't see nearly as many 8-10 year olds with quite that reckless disregard for personal safety, even when it involves skateboards.

No, it's about the brain. It's a time of rapid change: chemicals pumping, neurons crackling with electricity. It's part of what gives teenagers that amazing energy and potential.

But there can be a dark side. At least some of them (see "risky business," above) cause trouble - or are its victims.

Douglas County is at a crossroads. We can follow the path of other counties in Colorado, and begin to build up a slow, cumbersome, crisis-based social services system.

Or, we can invest in a refreshing alternative: the Douglas County Youth Initiative.

The Initiative is one of several projects of the Partnership of Douglas County Governments. As far as I know, it represents the only example of shared staffing in the county -- multiple agencies contributing to a single staff position. Currently, those agencies include Douglas County, the towns of Parker and Castle Rock, the city of Lone Tree, and the Douglas County School District.

That position is held by Carla Turner, who came to the county about 9 months ago with loads of experience in everything from social services to criminal justice. But what she brings to the table is not just depth of experience.

She also brings a deep ability to analyze systems.

I have the privilege to serve on the DCYI Executive Board, and she and I were talking about this recently. She walked me through a not-uncommon scenario: a male teen with some anger issues, who keeps picking fights with his sister.

In the more typical government approach, there really isn't much that can be done until a crime is committed -- assault. At that point, the young man is tussling with the law, and the family is enmeshed with all kinds of mysterious, stressful proceedings and hearings and attorney costs.

The parents may look for an alternative on their own - sending their son to military school, for example. But then they find out that such schools are mighty pricey -- $22,000 a year, or more.

The result: time, trouble, and tension. No resolution.

Carla, working in close communication with a variety of agencies, has put together something called "WrapArounD." Under this model, things are a little different.

First off, when the parents call with concerns, a team is quickly assembled to take a look at the situation. Instead of reacting to a brush with the law, the focus is on providing assessments and resources to avoid the triggering incident.

What's the bottom line? More real help for real people. Positive, not punitive, engagements with the community. Lower crime.

Oh, and savings. It's much, much, cheaper to do things this way. She's proved it.

Thanks to Carla and her contacts, I'm also happy to report that the library now has a thorough, online guide to local resources for youth.

From our main page at www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org, click on the "Douglas County & Community" tab. Then click on the left tab for "Community Resources." There are a lot of good people there, just waiting to help.

What's the lesson?

Just because teens have brain development issues, doesn't mean the rest of us can't use ours.

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