JUDGES AND PARENT-TEACHERS MEET

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  • SPRING, 1966-VOL. XVII, NO. 1 13

    JUDGES AND PARENT-TEACHERS MEET

    THE MILWAUKEE CHILDRENS CENTER

    This modern and impressive structure was the headquarters for one of the recent judge-parent teacher conferences.

    It began in 1962 with an experimental program in Marianna, Florida. Later, a regional conference was sponsored in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and last fall, a three-day meeting was held in Milwaukee. All brought together local juvenile court judges and representatives of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. These conferences, devoted to Judicial Concern For Children in Trouble, permit parents and teachers an insight into the juvenile courts which would otherwise be unavailable.

    The idea has caught on and similar programs are planned throughout the country. There is even talk of a national conference. Certainly this parent-

    teacher association is a key organization to gain for our courts the community support they must have. The conferences present addresses by judges on such topics as From Start to Treatment. The partici- pants have ample opportunity to talk with the vis- iting judges; they enjoy several meals together; sit in on moot court hearings; and tour the local facil- ities.

    Milwaukee was a happy choice for the confer- ence last November because of the superiority of its new facilities. The meeting opened with the following address by President Ketcham which set the tone for the conference and disclosed its purposes:

  • 14 JUVENllE COURT JUDGES JOURNAL

    A major purpose of this type of conference is to inform one interested and effective segment of Amer- ican citizens, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, about the major problems facing the Juve- nile Courts of the United States. It has become most evident in the two decades since World War I1 that the American public does not fully comprehend the philosophy or operations of our courts for chil- dren. We in the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges are committed to seek better public under- standing through increased public knowledge of these important courts. We want, in effect, to take the lid off .

    Privacy of juvenile court hearings and the pro- tection of the anonymity of children are principles of great value and importance to our childrens courts. But they have usually brought with them a vague and murky public image of the juvenile court as a place where social workers dole out lollipops to bad children or coddle tough eggs in luke-warm water. Since American citizens are inordinately sus- picious of governmental agencies from which they are barred for reasons they do not fully understand, the consequence has been anaemic budgets, half- hearted public support, inadequate facilities and a lowly public image for our childrens courts. Encour- aging articulate citizens like the leaders of the PTA organizations to examine, constructively criticize, and recommend improvements in the juvenile court system should prove to be a healthy anecdote to the pseudo-secrecy surrounding these courts. Public debate and appropriate disclosures by such inter- ested parties will focus the attention of the execu- tive branch and the legislature on the virtues and defects of the juvenile court as an instrument of so- cial control. And perhaps, like the Adams Family, when the mystery is dispelled, the public will display more understanding for the philosophy of individu- alized juvenile justice.

    The logic of the Juvenile Court is that the long- term safety and best interests of the community can be served most effectively if 84inquent youth re- ceive parental care and guidance, preferably in their own home, or-if removal from home is a necessity-in the most effective substitute that can be devised. But too often today the choices facing a conscientious juvenile court judge are not choices a t all. In jurisdictions where the st ate training school is an overcrowded version of an adult prison, it would be a mockery for the judge to commit a youth to such an institution in the belief that he would receive such care and training as should have

    been given by his parents. Conversely, if release on probation means that the youth will proceed on his merry way in the community without the guid- ance or control of a trained probation officer (be- cause the county or the state refuses to provide one), what choice is that? And upon what information or reflection does the judge make such choices as are available, if he has no social worker to provide a social investigation report?

    We look to those of you who attend this confer- ence to insist that the legislative bodies, who cre- ated and now provide the budgetary support for our juvenile courts, fulfill their obligations to chil- dren. Just as it would be a cruel jest to pass com- pulsory education laws and then not build the nec- essary schools or employ the requisite number of teachers, so it is imperative that the state take prompt steps to support i ts juvenile courts which it has long neglected. T h e state has no right to sub- st i tute governmental neglect for parental failure.

    If the juvenile court is not to be swept away by the tide of legal history, those interested in its phi- losophy must strongly urge (1) that legislatures provide juvenile courts with sufficient, trained judges and adequate professional staff to dispose patiently yet expeditiously of all cases referred to them; (2) that juvenile court procedures which afford due proc- ess and fair treatment for the child and his parents, and which prevent the unwarranted intervention of overzealous representatives of the state in their pri- vate lives, be formulated and put into universal application; ( 3) that systematic procedures for assessing the needs of children coming before these courts be developed by behavioral scientists; and (4) that the state appropriate sufficient funds for the construction and adequate staffing of institu- tions expressly designed to provide for delinquent juveniles the care, guidance, and discipline that should have been provided by their parents. Unless these things are done, and done promptly, the juve- nile court movement is in grave danger of founder- ing.

    Because we want your help as full partners in our efforts to turn anti-social youth into law-abiding, useful American citizens, we promise you candor and full disclosure of our secrets. We invite your criticism and your advice. When we part I hope you will be persuaded of the virtue of the Juvenile Court principle and will try to carry forward its purposes in your own states and communities and will support its efforts to obtain public approval and legislative appropriations.