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September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul, 5775
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Kids At Risk: Are We Making Progress?

The fact is the entire spectrum of Klal Yisrael has been impacted by the drug culture, by easy access to gambling, by the availability of just about anything anyone could imagine on the Internet, by alternate lifestyles that are now considered acceptable by the larger society, and by a constant relaxing of moral standards.
Just about any children can go off the derech

Just about any children can go off the derech
Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

These beautiful kids.

They could be your neighbors. Or your relatives. Or your own children. But they are suffering and their futures are at risk. Why? And what can we do?

The Jewish community has always been impacted by whatever is going on around it. Consequently, as the world gets more complicated, many of our community’s kids – not just those with learning difficulties but also our best and brightest – find themselves facing a tremendous array of difficulties.

It doesn’t matter if they are from haredi families or Modern Orthodox homes or anything in between. The fact is the entire spectrum of Klal Yisrael has been impacted by the drug culture, by easy access to gambling, by the availability of just about anything anyone could imagine on the Internet, by alternate lifestyles that are now considered acceptable by the larger society, and by a constant relaxing of moral standards.

The result is that we see more and more kids at risk.

My sons Yoni and Shmuel, two therapists who have dedicated their careers to working with young people in need, don’t particularly like the term “kids at risk.” Yoni refers to them as “kids in pain.” His insight tells me something about these young men and women that some people tend to overlook: adolescents and teens who don’t quite fit the mold and “act out” are not necessarily doing so out of brazenness and chutzpah. They are often in genuine distress. Sometimes so much so that they don’t recognize what’s happening to them. Consequently, they begin to seek acceptance elsewhere, outside of family and the safe harbor of community.

Ruchama Clapman of MASK (Mothers and Fathers Aligned Saving Kids) invited me to a meeting one night. It was a meeting I have never forgotten. I was escorted through a backyard and arrived at a building that looked almost like a barn, and there I found myself in the middle of a huge circle of adults – many sets of husbands and wives who had come to share their experiences and offer one another the comfort of solidarity and share resources. It was my first real understanding of how widespread the problems were in my own community, listening to countless stories of kids who had gone astray and the resulting pain that they and their families had experienced.

My heart broke as I listened to these men and women who loved their children every bit as much I love mine. They spoke about their 12- and 13- and 14-year-olds coming home at 3 a.m. addled by drugs – or sometimes not coming home at all. There were stories of overdoses. Kids from beautiful families. Families just like yours and mine.

One of the things I have learned is that kids can have the most amazing parents and come from beautiful, large, supportive families and still wander far off the path. There are many factors that go into the unraveling of a child’s sense of security and the warning signs aren’t always apparent to an untrained eye.

At Ruchama’s insistence, I became very involved in the issue of kids at risk. I saw how important it was for government officials to understand the enormity of this issue and for government funds to be earmarked to bolster the organizations helping the many families coping with these problems.

I have Ruchama Clapman to thank for opening my eyes to this community-wide problem and I was proud to help substantially with this issue. I’d hoped proper funding would solve the problem. But while helping these organizations is vital, today the problem has grown bigger than ever.

About the Author: New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind has represented the 48th Assembly District for more than three decades.


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