June 26, 2003 – In its second session of the day on Wednesday, the Senate Education and Youth Committee focused on the importance of youth groups, especially since today's young people "have been touted for activities that are less than desirable," as Sen. Ronald Russell, the committee chair, put it.
Representatives of the Boys and Girls Club and the Labor, Police, Human Services and Housing Parks and Recreation Departments summarized their function within the community and outlined their funding needs at the evening session, which followed an afternoon hearing on the public education system.
Kimberley Causey Gomez of Human Services' Division of Children, Youth and Families said division programs affecting young people include protective care intervention, juvenile justice intervention, residential treatment, delinquency prevention and the federal Head Start program.
Gomez said there are 158 children in foster care under the auspices of the department's protective care unit. And, she said, 47 percent of children in need of foster care are over 13 years old, most coming from low-income families, 71 percent of them single-parent households, with 91 percent having experienced neglect.
Juvenile Justice programs serve pre-delinquents, persons in need of supervision and adjudicated youth, she said. Services include investigation, recommendation to the courts, treatment, and oversight for an alternative sentencing program within the Youth Rehabilitation Center. Currently, she said, 53 youths are receiving pre-delinquent counseling and 252 are receiving services for delinquent behavior. Eighty percent are males, the average arrest age is 15 years and 37 percent have committed a violent crime. However, Gomez pointed out, these youth in trouble represent only about 1 percent of the total population their age.
Within the division's Crisis Stabilization Center, Gomez said, group residential facilities for boys and for girls are funded by Human Services to provide limited treatment for dysfunctional behavior. More than half of the children involved are diagnosed with mental illness, she said. While these children generally require long-term treatment, there are no programs or facilities on island to address their needs separately from the general population of children needing treatment.
Gomez urged the senators, among other things, to increase Human Services funding to provide mental health services for children and youth and to hire competent, innovative teachers for the Youth Rehabilitation Center. Campaigning for funding of $500,000, Kenneth Blake, head of the Police Crime Prevention/Community Relations Bureau, outlined specialized projects including the DARE program, Police Athletic League and the Police Pre-Cadet Corps.
Lauretta Petersen, acting director of the Labor Department's Training Division, asked not for additional funding but for the amount appropriated for this fiscal year. She said that $92,272 was to be allocated from the Youth Transition Employment Fund but to date no funds have been received. She also said $300,000 was appropriated for the V.I. Graduates program, but again, "no funds have been allotted for FY 2003."
The idea of a consolidated Youth Department — approved by the 24th Legislature and then vetoed by the governor — was raised and discussed. Petersen observed that the Labor Department "is already that sort of umbrella organization." For example, she said, it is the department's job to place summer students. But "many organizations have not come to us," she said. "This is why many students have not been placed."
One concern expressed was that such specialized programs as DARE — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — may have no place within a general Youth Department.
The testimony taken at the session is to be compiled into a general information booklet
outlining youth programs within the territory. "It is important that the children have this information," Sen. Luther Renee said, "because in the long run we are saving money by providing youth with programs that will keep them from being incarcerated."
Committee members at the hearing were Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Renee, Raymond "Usie" Richards and Russell. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone was excused.
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