Liz Siegal is wrong when she says the curfew law in the District will save lives [Outlook, Sept. 12]. It will have no impact except to waste people's time.
Siegal is at Superior Court occasionally. Her main job is policy for D.C. Action for Children. I am there every day. I handle neglect, juvenile and criminal matters. I have 78 open cases.
A case comes in because of excessive absences. Sometimes the parent is interested, sometimes the parent bemoans that it's the kid's fault. In any event, by the time they get into the court system, the kid is generally beyond a solution. We don't lock up kids just for being truant; we send them home with an order to attend school regularly. But they don't. The probation officers simply give up and don't send them back to court. There is no solution. Some of them get arrested, some are subsumed into the great number of undereducated people. They are forever "gonna get their GEDs" when they appear before a judge. Few do.
The curfew law will work the same way. Who is going to allow kids to be cruising late on a school night? Parents who don't care, are mentally ill or who have drug problems. The same kids breaking curfew are the ones getting in trouble in juvenile court. The cops are too busy dealing with the big bad dudes to bother much with the curfew breakers. Oh, they'll arrest a few to make a show for newspapers and TV. But we have enough trouble finding beds for the real troublemakers at Oak Hill (the juvenile detention center). We are not going to lock up curfew breakers.
It is nice that child and family services will have contact with every child picked up. Most of those families are probably already in some social workers' dossier. We can't even get adequate services for juvenile law breakers or for the neglected children in this city. If you had handled a large number of neglect cases, you would know that they don't work for out-of-control teenagers. Neither will the curfew law. If we don't get them in a stable home environment when they are young -- say, age 7 and younger -- all the services in the world won't work.
So let's let the curfew go largely unenforced and concentrate our resources on the kids already in the system. The police do not have the time to pick up every curfew breaker. Heck, they don't have the time to pick up even some of them. The social workers don't have time to work with the kids. The only solution is for the families to get involved. Without that, the kid is doomed.
-- Lauren S. Kahn