Judge Andy Devine has seen a lot of changes in the world in his 92 years. Some, like the development of the space shuttle, give him a sense of awe and wonder. Others, like the increase in crimes and delinquency among America’s youth, are a source of grave concern.
When Devine was elected a Lucas County Juvenile Court judge in the 1970s, he thought he knew how to turn things around. Since the parents in these dysfunctional families were already too far gone to change their ways, he reasoned, he would ignore them and focus solely on the children.
“I was convinced that the only way to work with these troubled kids was to develop programs within the community so that they recognized that you have to respect others’ rights and that you have responsibilities in addition to rights,” he said in a recent interview.
There was only one problem: It didn’t work.
Too many youths who went through the treatment programs ended up back in his court.
Then, in the early 1980s, he had a sudden realization of what he was doing wrong.
“It took two, maybe three, years, for my epiphany,” Devine said. “I soon learned that ignoring the parents was not the way to solve the problems of children. If you’re going to put the child back in the home with the parent who was responsible for the child’s problems in the first place, there’s no way you are going to have any degree of success.”
It wasn’t just his court that needed to shift its focus. Virtually all of the community programs aimed at helping troubled youths also were ignoring the parents and concentrating on the children, he said.
To solve the problem, Devine said, society needs to train parents and give them the resources and the support they need to raise their children to be productive, responsible adults.
The Rev. Dan Rogers, president and CEO of Cherry Street Mission Ministries, sees the fallout of society’s failed efforts in his work with Toledo’s homeless and poor. He agrees with Devine’s assessment that helping the parents is the key to solving the problem of delinquent youth.
“I can imagine a T-shirt that says, ‘We don’t’ give a rip about your kid,’” Rogers said. “Andy laughs at me when I say that but I’ve been trying to sum it up in a single sentence.”
If you have better parents, you’ll have better children, Rogers said. Parents need to care about their children more than society does. When society takes over the parents’ role, the parents become disenfranchised and disengaged.
It’s a cycle that keeps spinning around, leaving parents ill equipped to raise their children.
“We have polluted the stream and now we’re blaming the fish for dying in the stream we polluted,” Rogers said.
Devine likes to use the space shuttle program as an analogy for how society should be doing more to support parents.
“They didn’t create the space shuttle overnight,” he said. “It took 18 years to build and it cost $18 billion. It involved over 18,000 engineers and scientists. Just to put a machine together that can take off and just fly around for 10 days and come back to earth.”
There’s something even more complex and wondrous than space flight, he said: his twin great-granddaughters.
“These two babies are a million times more complicated than that space shuttle,” Devine said.
And while the shuttle has thousands of highly trained people supporting it from its design to liftoff to its return landing, parents are essentially left on their own.
“These unbelievably complicated little human beings need that kind of support from the community so that they can, in 18 years, take off and fly and not get lost in space,” Devine said.
It’s going to take an epiphany in the way society works with troubled children before things will start turning around, he said. It’s going to require a paradigm shift, from focusing on the child to training the parents, he said.
And ultimately, he sees the solution in going back to the way things were when he was growing up in Shelby, Ohio, during the Great Depression — and the way it was for thousands of years before that.
“God and mother nature have laid out the best game plan that you can possibly imagine. And what is it? It’s the family: mom, dad, baby. That’s how we pass on the gift of life and that’s how we take care of this gift of life so they can in turn pass on the gift of life. That’s my vision,” Devine said.