Letters to the Editor

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Promise to Get the Facts

Peter A. Gallagher, CEO
America’s Promise
Alexandria, Va.Wraparound’s

I am writing in response to your recent Nose Knows column (June) on America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth. We found it surprising that you chose to write your column without interviewing me or any of the senior staff employed by our organization, and even more surprising that you did not check the accuracy of the facts.

If you had, you would have learned that, among several errors, you grossly misstated information on lobbying activity and expenditures from our IRS tax filing. America’s Promise spent only $42,880 and $43,149 on lobbying in 2001 and 2000, respectively. Instead of reporting the amounts our organization actually spent, you erroneously reported the ceiling amounts that the federal government would have allowed us to spend on lobbying under the law. These funds were spent to further the mission we share with our colleagues in the youth development field – making children and youth a national priority – through our support of such legislation as the Younger Americans Act.

If you had spoken with us, or with current Community of Promise or demonstration site leaders, you might have been able to share with your readers up-to-date and useful information on what we are learning together about how best to create whole-community collaborations in support of children, rather than [telling] 2- and 3-year-old anecdotes.

And while you cite some language from Brandeis University’s Center for Youth and Communities study of Kansas City and Knoxville, you did not include that their analysis found that Communities of Promise receiving our intervention have increased the delivery of resources to children and youth in existing community programs, have brought new programs and resources to the community, and have effectively mobilized volunteers community-wide.

We value and appreciate the voice and commitment Youth Today brings to the youth development movement. But please do your readers a favor by accurately reporting the stories you cover.

Forgotten Kids

Michael A. Pawel
Executive Director
August Aichhorn Center for Adolescent Residential Care
New York, N.Y.

Your rhapsody about “wrap-around” services (“The Gift of Wrapping,” June) would be more persuasive if your reporter made at least a cursory effort to suggest she had considered problems and unintended consequences of the new panacea. Maintaining adequately supervised residential beds is very costly (primarily in staffing), and this cost is now primarily supported by state and local taxes. So the “discovery” that inpatient beds are not only unnecessary, but actually harmful, is eternally popular. It requires very little courage or “vision” to persuade politicians that liberating children, “supporting” families and saving money is a wonderful idea.

Like many obvious, wonderful ideas, it’s neither new nor quite so perfect as its most naive or cynical advocates suggest. The primary flaw is that there is a small but not insignificant group of youngsters who simply cannot survive safely without continual supervision, who will physically challenge that supervision unless it is organized in a specially structured setting, and who are completely without families or whose families are actively dangerous. Some of these individuals and their family members suffer from major psychiatric illnesses which, pharmaceutical advertising notwithstanding, are not fully controllable. All have been severely and repeatedly traumatized and deprived of any semblance of emotional or even physical stability, not to mention organized education.

There is nothing around which to wrap the ephemeral services they require to survive. They need to be taken care of. These people are discouraging to “treat,” difficult to manage and expensive to maintain. They do not vote and no one votes on their behalf. The decision to shift the substantial funds spent on their care to a more responsive, respectable and politically visible majority – working- and middle-class families looking for help – is a political no-brainer. That doesn’t make it a good idea.

Shifting funds from housing the few most-desperate children to helping many others leaves open the question of what becomes of the abandoned group. Some move into free beds with relatives, some move into voluntary agency beds, staffed by lower-paid, non-civil-service workers, and others move into correctional facilities. Some may die, reducing their maintenance costs to zero.
In difficult budgetary times, when residential facilities’ staffs, budgets and children are constantly under siege from bright young bureaucrats who have read the latest “best practices” claims of child care snake oil salespeople, and when youngsters are being transferred directly from state psychiatric hospitals to prisons, it would behoove you to consider who gets hurt when you enthusiastically support this process.

Friends Knows Best

Elayne G. Bennett, President
Best Friends Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Mark Twain warned us all against getting into a fight with a man who buys ink by the gallon. So, in response to your article (“Nose Knows”) in the June issue, let me simply offer some observations.

It is a pity you did not interview any of the girls who have benefited from the Best Friends program, or their parents. It is also a shame that you did not speak with any of the principals or teacher/mentors who are the key to our success. We are proud of the fact that our teacher/volunteers donate more than $1 million a year nationally to help youth.

Finally, I want to share some of Dr. Robert Lerner’s preliminary findings about Best Friends. The respected Lerner and Nagai Quantitative Consulting firm compared girls in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) in the same schools with girls in the Best Friends program. It found that:

For every four YRBS girls who have smoked, only one Best Friends girl has smoked; nearly three YRBS girls have drunk alcohol for every one Best Friends girl who has drunk alcohol; about six YRBS girls have had sex for every one Best Friends girl who has had sex; and about five YRBS girls have used illegal drugs for every one Best Friends girl who has used illegal drugs.

These results are sustained over time. They hold for girls regardless of race, age or year in school. Lerner says these data “provide substantial empirical evidence that the BF program does operate as a protective factor for girls who have been enrolled in it as compared to a sample of their peers living in the same community and attending the same schools.” I think results like these will be important to your readers.

Harm Reduction Problems …

Alan Markwood
Prevention Projects Coordinator
Chestnut Health Systems
Bloomington, Ill.

If readers want to think about harm reduction (“Just Say Less,” May), they need to be clear about the following distinctions:

Harm reduction as a goal vs. a method: There are a number of people and groups whose goal is to make drug use for adults acceptable and legal. They would like harm reduction adopted as the national standard not because it is more effective, but because it serves their goal. Readers need to understand that context when they read comments from the Drug Policy Alliance or similar groups.

Harm reduction as a service strategy vs. public policy: In spite of claims to the contrary, drug use will always be both a public health and a social justice problem. While it may be appropriate for public policy to allow for some types of harm reduction activity in the context of legitimate efforts to reduce drug use, a public policy that is mainly based on harm reduction ignores the social justice side of the equation.

Clients appropriate for harm reduction vs. those who are not: Harm reduction is not an appropriate basis for primary prevention of substance use, because it inherently promotes use as normal and appropriate. Even in treatment, in more cases than not, harm reduction plays into the inherent wish of being able to keep using when it is not appropriate to do so. The main venue for appropriate use of the kind of harm reduction strategies described in the article would be to attempt to intervene in the substance use of a young person who has begun regular use of alcohol or marijuana, but who is accessible to contemplating reduced use.

Harm reduction is, at best, a tool that can be used to advantage in certain limited situations. But [it] has the risk of increasing harm if misused, due to the inherent power of substances to attack health and impair social behavior.

... And Praise

Thomas Horvath, President
Practical Recovery Services
La Jolla, Calif.

Thanks for a piece well done. There is a whole range of people doing this, and many of us have never even heard of one another. Your article helps us make some connections, and spread the word.

Quality Requires Real Money

Barbara Ferman, Director
University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pa.

Thank you for writing such a fair, balanced and realistic article. (“Youth Take on Troubles in Their Neighborhoods,” June.) You captured quite well what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve.

I appreciated your questioning the ability to take an intensive [civic engagement] project to a large scale. I believe it can be done, but only with resources commensurate to the task. People need to understand that quality programs require an investment of resources. The more that message gets articulated, the better for all of us.


Malcolm C. Young, Executive Director
The Sentencing Project
Washington, D. C.

Thanks for an excellent, needed article that addresses the gap between what is known to be good anti-crime programming and policy, and what is funded. (“Turbulent Re-entry,” June.) Many of us are concerned that with the state of funding generally, and with the seemingly irreversible commitment to prisons, the current budget crunch will cause states to pass up on opportunities to effectively fight crime.


An article in the June issue (“Turbulent Re-Entry”) misidentified Chip Shields, executive director of Better People, as Chip Daniels.

An article in the June issue (“The Gift of Wrapping”) mischaracterized the process of random assignment in the Title IV-E Child Welfare Waiver Demonstration Project Evaluation in California. Eligible children are randomly assigned to a treatment group receiving wraparound services or to a comparison group receiving traditional child welfare services. Children are not randomly assigned to group homes.