The District's Youth Services Administration is designed to play a crucial role with the city's troubled juveniles. Its responsibilities cover everything from the Receiving Home for Children, a pretrial detention facility, to group homes and Oak Hill, where juveniles are held after convictions. Many of these young men and women are emotionally disturbed, chronic drug abusers and poor or former students in need of special education. Youth Services has the enormously difficult task of arresting delinquency and turning young lives around.
But published reports and numerous outside investigations over the past two years have outlined a litany of poor and even nonexistent services. They show incidences of rampant drug abuse in these facilities and little or no drug counseling. A GAO probe found that the District had failed to fulfill the legal requirement to educate hundreds of youths in the Youth Services system. The D.C. Public Defender's Service sought a court order to force the city to address understaffing, and has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the juveniles it represents. Ongoing investigations by the GAO, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI are now looking into questionable contract procedures by Youth Services officials and allegations of widespread abuse of overtime payments.
What has the city, through its own internal management, done over the past two years to address these problems? Very little -- and what it is and has been doing has been the result of the pressure of these many investigations and not of its own initiatives. That is inexcusable. City officials will go before a congressional subcommittee on Friday to report on planned changes to improve their Youth Services educational program. The Public Defender's Service forced the city to find, hire and train 60 new staff members. The outside contracting and overtime investigations finally forced Mayor Marion Barry and his administration to begin an investigation on their own.
The essence of home rule is self-government, but with that right comes the less glamorous but essential responsibility for good management and internal policing. Until the District proves that it is ready to manage such changes on its own, the kind of external pressures that have been brought to bear on Youth Services will have to continue.