Saturday, December 3, 2011

Juvenile Offender Therapy Praised

Photo by Imagery Majestic
By Tiffany Buchanan
Have you ever wondered why so many young kids who are convicted of crimes seem to never stay out of trouble?  No matter how many different alternative schools and camps they attend to rehabilitate their behavior, the majority fall right back into the system. In 1992, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina started making steps to solve this issue in the Lowcountry. They developed a treatment called Multisystemic Therapy, which offers in-home counseling to these young individuals and their families to help with behavioral issues. I believe this method of treatment is much more effective in guiding our young people in becoming upstanding citizens. Unfortunately, it’s not locally available and it should be.
The conventional methods that are being used now are not effective in rehabilitating our youth. Troubled kids are placed into group homes or sent to camps that separate them from their families. Dudley reports that the Vice President of MST services of Mt. Pleasant, Marshall Swenson, says that this causes many of them to feel a sense of loneliness, and in turn, they are “vulnerable to gangs and become more criminally savvy during long-term stays at camps and group homes.” Swenson also said, “If you put a bunch of bad kids together, they will learn from each other. Judges like camps because they feel it’s something positive for the kids. But you’re taking them away from their families and putting them with other antisocial kids.”  I think that putting young people in an environment such as this will only lead to future imprisonment. The bottom line is that these programs aren’t minimizing the number of youth who are repeatedly making bad decisions.
The solution to this problem is Multisystemic Therapy. This treatment focuses on the family, not just the child. Dudley reports that the success of this program “relies on trained therapists providing intensive guidance to children and their families at their own homes several days a week for up to five months.” It also relies on the families getting involved and working with the counselors and juveniles to figure out the source of their behavior and what can be done to correct it. “Families are usually skeptical.” Swenson says, “Sometimes they would rather get rid of the problem child and have someone else try to fix them at camp. But what happens when camps over?” Parents should not delegate the responsibility of disciplining their children solely to others. I firmly believe that the best way to tackle this issue is to start at home.
MST is being used in surrounding cities such as Orangeburg and Florence, states such as North Carolina and Florida, and even in foreign countries, and is yielding outstanding results. Dudley reports that statistics involving “a group of chronic juvenile offenders who received the treatment with a group that did not are as follows: 54 percent fewer re-arrests, 57 percent fewer days of incarceration, 68 percent fewer drug-related arrests, and 43 percent fewer days on adult probation.”  The results were astonishing!  MST works, and it is time for Charleston to get on board.
MST costs less. Dudley reports that if you look at the costs for MST side-by-side with other conventional programs, on average, it costs about half the price at $59 a day for each family. The costs for other treatment plans range from $70 to $300 a day. Implementing MST would save Charleston County a substantial amount of money. She writes, “While the treatment lasts up to five months, other placements can be a year or longer.”  Not only is it more cost efficient, it is a more sensible way to go.
Some might ask where the money would come from to fund this treatment program in our local areas. It seems that there is little political will to divert money from the traditional programs and the county is too broke to fund the new treatment otherwise. Right now funds are being misused on programs that don’t work. William Byars, Director of the State Department of Juvenile Justice, is making efforts to bridge the gap in the cost for MST. He has proposed the next best option: “providing supervision for children after leaving lock-ups, group homes or camps.”  This is certainly a step in the right direction. If your gas tank had a leak, would you continue to put gas in it every day hoping that it would stop leaking?  Simply answered, no you would not. If we stop putting money into a flawed system and move in the direction being showed by Byars, we will make great improvement.
Multisystemic Therapy is the corrective treatment plan of the future. It is time for us to no longer accept the iniquities associated with conventional treatment for bad behavior of our youths. Parents need to accept the responsibilities associated with their child’s misconduct and be willing to work with therapists to make changes for the better. The results of MST speak for themselves. All that is left is determining how to best implement it. MST will pay for itself several times over once it is properly implemented. We can only hope that local officials see the value in MST in not only giving these troubled young people a chance to succeed, but also eliminating the back-breaking costs of ineffective treatment methods.


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