Retired juvenile court judge says parents, not just children, need community support

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.

Judge Andy Devine said that after several years on the juvenile court bench he had an epiphany -- you can't ignore the parents. Photo by David Yonke/Toledo Faith & Values

Judge Andy Devine said that after several years on the juvenile court bench he had an epiphany — you can’t ignore the parents. Photo by David Yonke/Toledo Faith & Values

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.

Discovery lifts off at the start of STS-120. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Discovery lifts off at the start of STS-120. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

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6 Responses to “Retired juvenile court judge says parents, not just children, need community support”

  1. Zappa912

    Thanks Denis. Of course, you are right. As I said, it is a matter of priorities. Parenting classes through religious organizations make sense, except they are not mandatory. Although for Catholics, pre-Cana classes may cover parenting. I cannot remember. It has been too long. Maybe other faiths offer parenting help in pre-marriage classes. Peace.

  2. Zappa912

    Denis–all a matter of emphasis, priorities. If not mandatory for high school students, then where? Are parenting skills important enough to be taught in the schools? When I was in high school 50 years ago, I would not have taken such a course unless it was mandatory. Fortunately, I had good parents as role models, and my wife was an excellent role model for my children and me. But not all children are as fortunate to have good parenting role models at home. So how and where do children learn good parenting skills if not learned in their homes? And unless they are somehow mandated? As I said, are good parenting skills important enough to be a learning priority? If not, then Judge Devine’s wisdom will be lost.

    • Denis Eble

      Zappa, I. too, was in high school 50+ years ago and there was no such course offered. I learned parenting from my own parents and from the parents of my friends.

      Today’s public school curriculum is mandated by the state’s Department of Education through the legislation passed by Ohio’s legislators. If you want parenting classes included in high school curriculum you’ll need to lobby these legislators. Remember though, something else will need to be deleted from the curriculum to make room for that.

      Further, which ideals of parenting would be taught? Different cultures have differing values of how parenting operates. For example, fundamentalists place great emphasis of the role of the father as ‘head’ of the house. As this is a religious blog, what about houses of worship taking up that parenting class idea?

  3. Denis Eble

    Zappa- Re schools teaching parenting: that would be nice, but with all of the curricula demanded of schools, there is no time for something that ought to be taught elsewhere. Driver’s Ed classes for teens now takes place outside of schools so why not ‘Parent’s Ed’ classes outside of the school, too? Remember: child-rearing does not require a license, but car-driving does.

    Chuck- what kind of employees are you hiring who don’t know how to read or use a keyboard? High school grads? I know several graduating seniors who might be willing to forego college if the employment opportunity was attractive. What line of work is it and what’s the pay? What are the benefits? Email me.

  4. chuck childers

    TPS asks little of parents. If kids aren’t read to, prepared properly for school, fed and clothed before school, there are no consequences. Kids are promoted and passed along. Parents need to be engaged early . Kids should not be promoted when they can’t read or do basic skills .
    At my small business , we need folk who can type and read. We are teaching and training high school grads to learn these basic skills that should have been learned in school.
    It’s not about poverty. I grew up in a housing project in East Toledo. Parents back then were serious about education. It ‘s about getting parents on board, giving them a consequence if they’re not.

  5. Zappa912

    Do the schools teach parenting? Offer parenting classes? Not that they would be the the total answer, but maybe parenting instruction would reach some young new and future parents in time to make a difference.

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