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February 18, 2011 > Cortese calls 2011 Year of the Child

Cortese calls 2011 Year of the Child

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell and Laurel Anderson

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese declared 2011 as Year of the Child in his recent 2011 State of the County Address.

"Humankind owes to the child, the best that it has to give," Cortese said, quoting from a 1959 United Nations declaration. Five decades later he invited everyone to ask themselves if they have given their best as a society, as a community, as a county government.

"I want to put Juvenile Hall, as we now know it, out of business," he said, describing what he would like to be his legacy. "I'd like to transition the highly skilled employees there into the community to work on prevention and intervention instead of incarceration."

Cortese acknowledged the Courts, Probation Chief and community partners for their work on alternatives to Juvenile Hall for children younger than 13, indicated there will be even bolder restructuring of the juvenile justice system, shifting the emphasis from punishment to reform, and outlined several juvenile justice initiatives in support of children.

First, asking the court system and Probation to phase out jailing children aged 13-15 years, except in cases of the most violent crimes.

Second, continuing to innovate in creating new systems for pre-trial diversions of first-time youth offenders, screening and directing them to community-based organizations for appropriate intervention BEFORE they are formally arrested. An estimated 3,000 youth per year could be kept out of the criminal justice system. Creating a restorative justice program, like Alameda County's McCullum Youth Court, where young first-time offenders are tried and judged by a jury of their peers. The program will give youth a different perspective on their actions. It also may inspire youth to pursue careers as attorneys, judges and probation officers.

Third, continuing to correct and transform the over-representation of minorities in the system, a major civil rights challenge.

Fourth, moving forward to separate adult and juvenile probation systems, so that employees can be trained appropriately and the focus shifted to prevention and intervention.

"With the help of a new mental health grant, we shall reinvent School-Linked Services," said Cortese, who supports a closer working relationship with the schools, "... to place services [drug and alcohol intervention, mental health counseling, probation, public health and mentoring] right on our local school campuses."

He also indicated that he would ask the Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution encouraging the endorsement and adoption of A-G (college prep) Curriculum in every school district in the county.

To keep the organization on track, Cortese will propose that Child Impact Statements be included for issues that come before the Board of Supervisors for consideration and that the Youth Task Force, which currently reports to the County Office of Human Relations, report directly to the Board of Supervisors. The group will conduct policy research, attend meetings, offer their perspective on issues that might affect youth and assert leadership skills.

"Our children cannot prosper if their families do not prosper," Cortese remarked. "We'll convene economic summits with leaders in health care and green tech so we can further position our county to help pave the way for job growth in these challenging times."

At the other end of the age spectrum, Cortese pledged to retain funding for senior meals programs, personally work on mental health for seniors and ask his colleagues to develop a senior agenda.

Finally, Cortese wants the Public Health Department to conduct health assessments focused on ethnicities, beginning with the Vietnamese who make up 10 percent of residents and who have a high rate of cigarette use and cervical cancer.

"... almost everything here is less about dollars and more a matter of philosophy and doing things differently," Cortese said. "It's how we deploy our people, not how many we deploy. "While we're doing our budget reductions, we cannot lose our vision."

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