THE SHARP INCREASE in fatal shootings of youths in the District tells only part of the story. True, more children have been slain so far this year than in all of 2003. However, it's equally true -- and nearly as disturbing -- that arrests of juveniles for unauthorized use of vehicles are up 10 percent in 2004 over the previous year. The combination of youth violence, "kiddie" car thieves, and their wholesale destruction of human life and private property has caused affected neighborhoods to demand rapid action from the city. With summer half over, the government is slowly waking up to the problem. The solutions, likewise, are only halfway in place.
The D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams have reached agreement on new measures that will force juveniles to face the consequences of their actions. New laws will also strengthen the hands of judges and give law enforcement officers more tools for cracking down on reckless drivers and car thieves who try to flee or elude authorities. A major source of the problem, however, lurks beyond the stolen cars and the juvenile offenders. For that, look to the homes of many of the young offenders, where responsible parental involvement has been sadly nonexistent. As the mayor and other city officials discovered at recent community forums, the residents who need to turn out and discuss plans to resolve the youth problems are absent: the parents of the offenders themselves.
This is where a much talked about -- but seldom implemented -- effort is needed. On Monday, Deputy Mayor Neil O. Albert outlined an ambitious effort to reach families that are the main sources of the problems in community "hot spots." Many of the offending youths live with parents who need help or who are isolated and facing a host of social problems. These are also households with a huge distrust of the government. They will become the targets of door-to-door community outreach by 40 of the city's trained "roving leaders," who will promote programs and family support services. Resources and staff, Mr. Albert said, are not the problem. He has enough of both to get his effort underway. His greatest challenge, he said, is to reach the generation of children -- and families -- now at risk. Sound familiar? Yes. But an important response, too, if sustained.