As a member of the Project Breakthrough Steering Committee and as a clinical psychologist, I understand the frustration of parents and the anger of kids who run away with increasing frequency. Legislative pressure is growing to curb child runaways by locking them up.
If a child runs away from home, it should not be considered a crime. It is, instead, someone’s cry for help. And help is what that child and family need. They need more services rather than more laws.
That is the position of Project Breakthrough - a collaborative effort of hundreds of people representing education, social service, business, health organizations and families in Spokane.
Breakthrough came together after the murder of Rebecca Hedman, a 13-year-old drug-dependent street kid. Rebecca’s life has become a symbol of the growing number of children from all ethnic backgrounds who find themselves on the streets, in harm’s way. Through Breakthrough, we have rekindled our pledge to do whatever it takes so that no more of our children are lost.
Project Breakthrough is opposed to proposals that would lock up status offenders. This tactic has been tried in the past. It didn’t work then; why would it work now?
We believe in keeping kids and their families together by addressing the issues and problems that cause the dysfunctions that result in kids feeling the need to run away.
Breakthrough has galvanized the will of this community by bringing people together to share ideas, resources, funding, and accountability for getting things done. The project fosters action and interaction between the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
The problem is that since 1977, resources have dwindled in the face of rapid increases in the number of alienated kids and families seeking help. Regrettably, services for these children and their families are woefully insufficient.
There are no involuntary commitment beds for chemically-dependent children and only 44 beds statewide for kids with the most serious mental illnesses. The foster care system is working beyond its capacity to fill the gaps.
There are very few intensive case management resources for kids being released from treatment centers. There are also insufficient resources available to kids receiving outpatient care. There are no independent living resources or systems for these kids or their families.
My family and I chose to live in Spokane because of the deep sense of community, family values and support of volunteerism - all of which are proud traditions in this community. For me, strengthening children, youth, and families is part of my definition of quality of life - as it is for all those who are supporting Project Breakthrough’s efforts. By collaborating even more, we, as a community, can prevent future tragedies for street kids and future grief for their families.
If you would like more information on Project Breakthrough, please call 838-6581.