The few members of the public who attended Monday’s village council meeting saw the conversation bounce a bit as a group of adults struggled to get a handle on what exactly they should be doing for an ill-defined group of local teens. In fact, the mayor very candidly announced at the outset that he really had no idea what the answers might be. Though it may sound like a shrug of the shoulders, we think such an admission is a very positive first step.
There is a consensus among educators, law enforcement, parents and many others that Forest Park is seeing an unusual number of problems with unruly adolescents. Police and neighbors of the park district said the summer months this year brought sometimes violent outbursts and offensive language into the surrounding neighborhoods.
It appears that some of these problems may be quite serious.
It also seems that some of the unruly behavior is not as serious. Seeing a child extend his middle finger in your direction may not be pleasant, but it only bothers you as much as you allow it to.
The first task that public officials should give themselves in trying to quell disruptive behavior is figure out exactly which kids they’re after. It was suggested by a school board member that 80 percent of middle school students in Forest Park are coming home to an empty house. What was less clear is whether public officials intend to supervise this 80 percent, or if a much lesser percentage of the kids are responsible for a majority of the outbursts. Offering fun, supervised and occasionally educational programming for the 80 percent would likely look vastly different than offering direct help to the handful of knuckleheads.
Others in the community, including churches, parents and the kids themselves, will be invited to the table in early February when the council again hopes to discuss these issues. It would seem that by pooling resources there will be a better chance to narrow the focus of this effort. Should the community reach out to the majority of kids who may be generally well behaved, or is this an effort to salvage the futures of those who are headed on the wrong path?
Commissioner Rory Hoskins posed an interesting theory on why these issues appear to be more prevalent all of a sudden. New residents in Forest Park may be landing here somewhat haphazardly, possibly as a result of public housing closures in the city. These families find themselves somewhat isolated, have fewer means and the spiral of problems begins. Hoskins offered no specific data to back his theory, but again, helping these kids may require a different approach than if they’re longtime residents.
This community has oodles of resources already available to help the stakeholders find workable solutions, and Monday’s meeting was a step in the right direction. The quality of the information that’s collected in the coming months will mean everything to the success of this effort.