- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

The president and first lady Laura Bush, speaking at a youth conference yesterday at Howard University, said they are committed to “identifying the challenges” facing the nation’s children and crafting solutions to those problems.

Mrs. Bush has been touring the nation, listening to researchers, teachers, youth services professionals and children to develop locality-specific approaches. But she said the real work begins in the home.

“Children whose parents show them love and support and stay active in their lives have an enormous advantage growing up,” she said. “Yet too many children grow up in homes where one parent is absent, most often their father.”

Mrs. Bush said the focus must be placed on parenting, with particular emphasis on fatherhood, and helping young men learn how to stay involved in their children’s lives.

“Being a good dad doesn’t always come naturally,” she said.

More than 20 colleges and universities nationwide participated in the White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth, with scholars and professionals sharing ideas and listening to experts.

Among the key initiatives to help communities was the introduction of an online guide to assist communities in developing partnerships, prioritize needs relative to their environment and identify existing resources, in addition to finding gaps in their efforts to educate and protect youth.

One conference speaker, Laurie Smith, sheriff of Santa Clara County, Calif., said almost half of all murder suspects are younger than 25, a group that accounts for only 14 percent of the population.

“And this is with the homicide rates recently falling to levels similar to the 1960s and we continue to deal with the overrepresentation of minorities in prisons,” Mrs. Smith said.

J. David Hawkins, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, said the greatest failure in youth development is that most communities are not using programs that have been tested and proven to work.

He added that in many areas the studies are new, but that those known to fail, such as juvenile detention and incarceration, continue to be the most used methods.

“Twenty-five years ago, we did not know how to prevent drug abuse in this country,” Mr. Hawkins said. “In 2004, we had 56 tested programs proven to benefit young people and keep them from engaging in high-risk behavior.”

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