Especially in these times of great economic concern, we have to do right by all our children at the State Capitol. Two recent proposals by the Republican majority give me great concern that we are abandoning them.
Just last week Republicans passed their first budget-cutting bill, which eliminated $900 million in cuts to local governments, health care and higher education. While the wealthiest Minnesotans were spared any sacrifice, vulnerable children were not so lucky.
Republicans cut $28 million from Children and Community Services (CCS) grants used predominantly for child protection. Counties use these funds to protect abused children or vulnerable pregnant teenagers. In Hennepin County, 100 percent of the CCS grants are used for child protection. I voted against this bill and am pleased that Governor Dayton vetoed it.
Perhaps more troubling was the introduction of HF 306, a bill that would allow 10-year-old children to be charged with crimes as adults for some violent crimes. The very youngest person to ever be charged with a crime as an adult was an 11-year-old boy. Putting children in prison should not be one of the areas where Minnesota is a national leader.
For anyone who has interacted with a 10-year-old child, common sense tells you this person is not an adult. Clearly, there are many troubled young children who have done some terrible things. However, in almost every one of these cases that child has been neglected or abused themselves and has serious mental health issues that contributed.
Putting underage children in the criminal adult system almost ensures their future is lost. Children under the age of 18, let alone 10, have an incredibly high recidivism rate once they enter the adult criminal justice system. It’s extremely costly and ignores our opportunity to help troubled youth get back on the right path so they can succeed.
The duality of the proposed cuts to child protection and the initiative to prosecute 10-year-old children is frightening. Abdicating our responsibility as a society to protect the most vulnerable children will only increase the likelihood that disturbed children end up on the wrong path. And by lowering the age we would prosecute them as adults, we are simply saying, “We give up.”
If our goal is to protect children and prevent crimes, we have much better options before us. We should strengthen, not destroy, our safety net support system to keep vulnerable children out of harm’s way. We should increase funding, not reduce it, for community programs that help build parenting skills for young parents. And when our troubled children stray, let’s rehabilitate them with the mental health care and education they desperately need.
I expect these will not be the last attempts during our difficult budget crisis that some will target our children. It’s up to all of us to speak out on their behalf. After all, our youngsters did not choose this economic downturn to live their formative years. Abandoning our children’s future is not an adequate response to the challenges we face.
Bobby Joe Champion is the District 58B state representative. He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com, 651-296- 8659, or 329 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.