Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Channeling Mike Singletary

Today, I’d like to channel my inner Mike Singletary.

For those of you who don’t know, Mike Singletary is the coach of football’s San Francisco 49ers. After an opening season loss three weeks ago, Singletary actually thanked his opponents for beating his team. Here’s the quote: "We played into Seattle's hands today and, once again, they got us. And I do want to say thank you. I wanted very much so, to tell Pete Carroll thank you very much for kicking our tails. It was good medicine and we are going to take it and we will go from there."

It is an interesting concept – I feel like he is acknowledging that Seattle’s victory exposed some weaknesses in the 49ers, weaknesses that otherwise most of the 49er players would have preferred to have kept hidden.

In that same spirit, I think I need to thank our new neighbors at our Family Care Group Home at 1503 Juniper Street. For those of you who don’t know the story, our proposed home there has met with some resistance from some neighbors. Rather than give you a detailed explanation, it might be easier if you take a look at a couple of news articles about the situation:

A story following a meeting we held with the neighbors on September 13.

An editorial piece about our proposed move.

Now, I want to make clear that I respect and understand our neighbor’s concerns. Our home on McClure Street had undue police contacts and the resolution was late in coming. At this point, our job is to rebuild the trust of our Juniper neighbors. It won’t be easy, but we are committed to the process.

In addition to changing the types of kids served in the Juniper home to individuals who do not have the significant mental health issues that some of the McClure residents had, we have set up a hotline for neighbors to use for issues around the home, we will be hosting monthly neighborhood meetings, and we are working with a Longmont city mediator to develop a "memorandum of understanding" with the neighbors.

Back to my initial point, I think I need to thank neighbors because their vocal opposition to the home has shed some light on a weakness that many would rather not have exposed: these kids, the ones who were responsible for the majority of police calls at our McClure home, are teenagers with dual diagnosis of a developmental disability and significant mental heath issues, and they exist in a kind of service limbo in the Colorado DD system. The options for serving them, and other kids with similar diagnoses, are limited and not very promising.

Without homes like our McClure home, these boys are likely to end up incarcerated or sent to Tennessee to institutions where they are "served" (at the considerable Colorado taxpayer expense of $450/day as opposed to the less-than-$300 Imagine! was getting to serve each individual) with little skill-building or hope of eventually becoming integrated members of society. Either way, at age 21 they are likely to return to Colorado, where they will continue to need to be served for the rest of their lives. In that scenario, no one wins – not the State, not the taxpayers, not the local communities, and certainly not the kids.

For the past several years, Imagine! has been trying to draw attention to this problem, asking why, for example, services for these particular individuals were under the direction of the State Division of Child Welfare and not the State Division for Developmental Disabilities. The Governor created a commission to study Child Welfare after recognizing design shortfalls and has implemented some recommendations from the Commission. Yet, the system still has shortcomings. The system of rules, regulations, and payment for limited services is extremely complex causing many advocates and potential providers to avoid addressing the needs of these kids

Imagine! made a commitment to serve these kids to the best of our ability. But our commitment isn’t unlimited and our mission is not a one way street – we need support and resources from our State and our community in order to succeed. Without that support, we can’t serve the kids, or the community, properly. And in the end, it is the State and the communities that will pay the price for not serving the kids – not Imagine!.

So I hope the outcry among our neighbors at Juniper St. will open up a dialogue about the bigger issue that few seem to want to address – there simply aren’t good service options for these kids. Now, there are newspaper stories and legislators asking questions. Imagine! has taken a bit of a beating, and that’s OK. We are not above accepting critical advice, and we admit we should have done a better job communicating with neighbors in the first place. But we hope that the discussion can grow from there to address the heart of the matter – how are we, as a State and a community, going to serve some of these kids with significant needs in the future?

It is unfortunate for both Imagine! and the Juniper St. neighborhood that the issue had to come to light this way, but in the end, maybe the whole community will be better for it.

Then again, what do I know?

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