On March 30th 2010, years of institutionalized failure cascaded into horrific violence. That night, on a front stoop on South Capitol Street SE, three young people lost their lives, another youth was murdered a short distance away, and several others were injured in a hail of gunfire.
The District’s legacy of deferred investment in youth behavioral health services and a lack of commitment to ensuring attendance in school create the conditions that make tragedy like that on South Capitol Street possible.
But it's not. CM Catania is serious about his new piece of legislation and solving the mental health issues plaguing thousands of young people in the District and the youth violence that is often associated with it. In fact, the CM said on News Talk with Bruce DePuyt, "What we've attempted to undertake is the most comprehensive behavioral health program in the nation. We are creating something out of whole cloth that we believe, that we believe, at long last will provide kids the safety net they deserve."
Led by At-large CM David Catania, the City Council will be considering "South Capitol Street Memorial Act of 2011" (PDF), a comprehensive answer to the current "patchwork of programs that reach small pockets of District youth." CMs Sekou Biddle, Tommy Wells and Chairman Kwame Brown have signed on as co-introducers of the legislation which will be introduced April 5.
Key elements of the legislation are:
- Youth behavioral health epidemiology – to include a requirement for the Department of Mental Health to conduct comprehensive youth behavioral health epidemiology report
- Early childhood behavioral health services – to screen children in early learning programs and connecting them to the appropriate resources
- School-based behavioral health services – to use age-appropriate tools and programs to assess children and address mental health and behavioral issues identified
- Truancy prevention – to include a top-to-bottom fix of truancy prevention and intervention programming
- Family resources – to include family-friendly and –accessible resources for families
- Behavioral health infrastructure – to include better billing and revenue maximization and enhanced services and training for system-involved youth
At the March 30 press conference to introduce the legislation to the public, CM Catania acknowledged that this legislation is not perfect and that changes will naturally be made as part of the normal legislative process. In addition, the CM and the staff of the Committee on Health are seeking input via email even before any hearing is scheduled. Martin Moulton, Ward 2 resident and community activist, has already submitted comments. In part, Moulton writes:
Thank you for introducing this bill. It helps to bring attention to these issues that seem to have been poorly addressed in the past…
Will Court Social Services be able to handle an increased number of truancy referrals that will result from your legislation? Satterfield noted recently, as he says he does regularly, that the DYRS program is completely overwhelmed by young people assigned to it. It's hard to imagine that the essential "rehabilitation" is actually effective. Newspaper reports suggests that some are still slipping through the cracks in the system. Has Graham's committee seen evidence of the "outcomes" that verify that current DYRS services are effective? Perhaps a "charter school" created to provide services for this population for the long term, over several years of their education, would be more effective. (I'm aware of the charter school that supports DYRS for short terms while youth are assigned to DYRS.)
In a March 31 appearance on News Talk with Bruce DePuyt, CM Catania said he appreciates skepticism about the legislation but believes in the legislation and says this kind of initiative is long past due. That said, the committee and the CM anticipate – and welcome -- a good deal of feedback.