The Parental Hard Corps

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In the children and youth national arena, dreaming up a categorical youth program, getting it enacted into law, securing an appropriation and finally scoring the training and technical assistance grant is as rare a feat as the unassisted triple play on the baseball diamond. Meet Sue Rusche, the youth field’s equivalent of the Atlanta Braves’ Rafael Furcal (who performed that singular move in August).

Rusche, who founded Atlanta-based National Families in Action (NFIA) in 1977, has just scored a $4,167,000 grant over three years to operate the federal government’s Parent Corps, which she says is aimed at “supporting parents in empowering themselves” to prevent youth drug abuse.

Self-empowering is a good description of Rusche, a mother of two and wife of a Shakespearean professor at Emory University in Atlanta. When she founded NFIA as De Kalb (County) Families in Action, Rusche’s interests were limited to her kids and their community – a typical beginning (and ending) for parents whose interest in youth drug use surges when their children reach middle school. In its early Carter-era years, NFIA had the profile of a typical parents-driven group, with support coming from contributions and membership.

With the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, Rusche, a loyal Republican activist, found a vacuum in Washington drug policy circles and soon became a close ally of First Lady Nancy Reagan of Just Say No fame. Sitting insecurely at the helm of the burgeoning “parent movement,” as she likes to call it, Rusche was soon a power to reckon with – or to cross at one’s peril. It didn’t go unnoticed that Rusche had the ear of her congressman, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), then a rising power in the GOP.

In 1982 NFIA landed its first federal grant from ACTION, a volunteer-promoting agency that has since been absorbed into the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) – which is the new governmental home of the Parent Corps and which awarded the recent grant.

Over the next 20 years Rusche moved adroitly among various federal funding streams, mostly from what is now the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, through which she published Drug Abuse Update, then mobilized Atlanta parents to fight drug abuse, promoted after-school programs, and did whatever else worked to keep the federal grants coming, especially during the Clinton interregnum.

Rusche’s version of the history of youth drug-abuse education is steeped in partisanship. In short, it reads: If a muddled Democrat is in the White House, the nation’s youth are going to pot. During the Clinton administration, she says, “prevention funding streams disappeared.” Few dispute that parent groups played a significant role in cutting teen drug use.

If a Republican is in the top office, however, teen drug abuse (in her view) obediently zooms downward. The Reagan-Bush years, for example, are fondly remembered in an August NFIA press release heralding the new CNCS grant, with Rusche quoted as saying, “The first parent movement played a significant role in reducing drug use by two-thirds among teenagers between 1979 and 1992.”

But the widely respected “Monitoring the Future” study conducted by Lloyd Johnston at the University of Michigan reports otherwise. Lifetime drug use among 12th graders, the study says, stood at 65.1 percent in 1979 and dropped to 40.7 percent in 1992 – impressive results, but only half the change that Rusche claims.

In 2000, Rusche’s views on parental activism took hold where it counted: with the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. A month before Election Day, Rusche flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to be on hand for candidate Bush’s broadside on the Clinton-Gore drug policies. Said Bush of the incumbent administration, “Drug policy has been pursued without urgency, without energy and without success.” He went on to propose a plan to raise drug abuse prevention and treatment spending by $2.7 billion over five years. Among the 20 programs Bush pledged to create or expand was Rusche’s Parent Corps, with a projected $25 million budget over five years.

Once in the White House, Bush continued to talk up the Parent Corps and requested $5 million for it in his fiscal 2001 budget. Objections, reportedly from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), meant “two very lean years” for NFIA, says Rusche. Finally, through the jumbo appropriations bill enacted last February, the Parent Corps and its $5 million in funding became the law of the land.

But NFIA had to compete for the grant to “build and train a leadership corps of parents.” Five other misguided organizations actually bothered to submit proposals. After NFIA’s cut, the rest of the $5 million appropriation ($800,000) went to the Research Triangle Institute’s Center for Interdisciplinary Substance Abuse Research, in North Carolina, to evaluate the Parent Corps effort – with the honor apparently going to RTI International’s Olivia Silber Ashley.

RTI evaluators will have an unobstructed view of the “parental movement” playing field. Rusche claims NFIA has “helped 3,000 [parents’] groups get started.” But now, she says, NFIA has “very few” affiliates. According to the group’s 2001 federal tax returns, “very few” translates into zero dollars from “membership dues and income.” Even more telling for a group that has been operating nationally for a quarter-century, the sale of its Drug Abuse Update and books totaled an anemic $8,617 in 2001. One student of the parental movement doubts if there were ever more than 3,000 groups, even in the halcyon mid-’80s.

In fact, says one close observer of the nonpartisan kind, the parental movement faded long before Clinton’s 1993 arrival in the White House. Says that observer, “the parents’ movement fell apart during Reagan.” Along with such groups as the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth and PRIDE, NFIA was categorized as one of those “very intolerant groups. They were fanatical parents who couldn’t compromise.”

Says another insider, “They were obsessed with fighting legalization” of marijuana.

But the unflappable Rusche hasn’t put in 25 years of anti-drug crusading to be deterred by the failures of the past. With $4.2 million in hand, a pilot effort based in Wilson, N.C., under way and a staff that will soon stand at nine, Rusche will be a major force in national drug-abuse prevention politics and policy – at least until a Democrat wins the White House.

Contact: (404) 248-9676,

Parent Corps Good, Categorically

Every modern president, especially the Republican ones, have been keen to streamline, consolidate or block-grant an array of categorical programs that bear a remarkable resemblance to the newly hatched Parent Corps. More accurately, each White House occupant wants to eliminate his predecessor’s narrow-gauged programs, not his own. President Bush is no exception.

The Parent Corps is good because it’s his categorical program. Sue Rusche terms both the White House and USA Freedom Corps Director John Bridgeland as “very supportive.” Why not? The corps will keep the GOP’s suburbanite core constituency busy chasing the Zig-Zag Man and crusading against medical marijuana clinics.

The heavier public policy lifting at the local level will be left to another Bush administration favorite, the $59.6 million Drug Free Communities Support Program (with 622 grantees), administered by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and overseen by drug czar John Walters. That categorical program and current grantees, insists Rusche, “are not parent-friendly” – hence the need for a hard-core Parents Corps.

Ireland Go Bye

Erin Go Braugh – “Ireland Forever.” That motto is inoperative in the case of Patricia Ireland, the suddenly sacked CEO of the YWCA of the U.S.A. Hired in April, Ireland’s appointment was promptly attacked by conservative groups appalled by having the bisexual feminist leading a national group with “Christian” in its name.

However, the initial flap seemed to be behind Ireland and the struggling national YWCA and its 303 affiliates. A meddling 22-member National Coordinating Board of the YWCA is one of the reasons for the ambush of Ireland at a New York City meeting in mid- October.

All that YWCA Board Chairwoman Audrey Peeples is willing to say is that the attacks from the right had “absolutely no influence in our decision” to fire Ireland at that meeting.

But with the YWCA staying largely mum, groups like the conservative D.C.-based Traditional Values Coalition were quick to fill the media vacuum – not a mistake the media-savvy Ireland would make.

Says Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus on the Family who has debated Ireland on TV: “It was fundamentally not a good fit. Abortion, homosexuality. … Those aren’t in the charter of the YWCA.”

While conservative groups put another notch on their rifle stocks, those few who are talking about the episode ascribe Ireland’s departure to internal YWCA leadership problems. In June 2002, the YWCA announced a “radical systemic change” necessitating a move to Washington that cost the jobs of the entire New York headquarters staff.

“Key to the new YWCA is a regional focus and local ownership of programming and services,” the organization’s revampers announced. Each of nine regions placed two women (men need not apply) on a new corporate board headed by Peeples, a retired Chicago YWCA executive director. In effect, the national YWCA became totally controlled by the most senior and political staff of local YWCAs. Ireland, hired for her high media profile, proved to be a leader unable to operate while harnessed to a 22-member board of service providers.

One of the 70-plus staffers in New York to be given pink slips in the past year was Dorris Daniel-Parkes, who had the unenviable task, as director of human resources, of handing them to her colleagues. Prior to joining the YWCA in 1987, Daniel-Parkes was an employment specialist for the Girl Scouts of the USA. She’s now back at the YWCA as interim CEO.

Says Peeples, “We’re just moving ahead.”

Contact: YWCA of the U.S.A. (800) 992-2871,