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youth

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Judiciary Committee advances legislation to help sexual abuse survivors heal

For Immediate Release:
October 4, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.286.1987 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Judiciary Committee advances legislation to help sexual abuse survivors heal

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), member of the Committee on Judiciary & Public Safety, on the committee’s approval of the Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018 which incorporates pieces of the Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act, a measure Grosso introduced in 2015 and 2017:

“For over a decade, the Council has considered some form of legislation meant to help childhood survivors of sexual abuse heal from the trauma of their experience. Today, we finally advanced legislation that will allow those survivors to seek justice and recompense and further hold the individuals who perpetrate these atrocities accountable.

“I originally introduced the Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act because I believe there are few actions more depraved than sexual violence against children. The experience of sexual violence as a child is one that endures for ages.  Most survivors do not come forward until well into adulthood, suffering for years with depression, feelings of guilt and sometimes difficulty forming intimate relationships. 

“I applaud the expansion in the legislation we have approved today which allows an individual to file a civil suit to recover damages for any sexual abuse – not just acts of sexual abuse that occurred while the victim was a minor.

“The recent spate of high-profile cases involving allegations of and convictions for sexual abuse underscore the pervasiveness of sexual assault in America. The prevalence of these incidences, across every sector, from the Catholic Church to as far reaching as the Office of the President of the United States, defies the word "problem." This is an epidemic, and what we've come to realize is that American culture has and continues to reinforce the normalization of sexual violence. Far too often, survivors of sexual violence are let down by the justice system.

“While this bill is not a panacea, it will go a long way to encourage and empower victims to come forward and know that a fair and just system is in place to help them right wrongs and begin to heal.

“As policymakers, we have to ensure that every available option is afforded to those who have been harmed and this legislation will allow the many courageous survivors across the city to seek justice under the law. I want to thank Chairperson Charles Allen and his staff for the time and effort that has been dedicated to advancing this measure to mark-up. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation when it comes before the full Council.”

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Grosso’s out-of-school time law marks several milestones in implementation

For Immediate Release:
October 24, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Grosso’s out-of-school time law marks several milestones in implementation

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), chairperson of the Committee on Education, released the following statement today on the continued implementation of the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes Establishment Act of 2016, which he introduced and was passed into law last year:

“Today marks several important milestones in our efforts to provide equitable, high quality out-of-school time programming to the youth of the District of Columbia. I applaud the Deputy Mayor for Education on the launch of the Office of Out of School Time Grants & Youth Outcomes and look forward to working together.

“Today we received a better picture of the current programming and gaps that need to be addressed in our city with the release of the D.C. Policy Center’s Needs Assessment of Out-of-School Time Programs in the District of Columbia. The findings and questions raised will be excellent material for discussion at the Commission on Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes, which will be responsible for setting the strategic priorities and plan for this work. This afternoon I reconvened and concluded the hearing on the public member nominees and I look forward to approving their nominations next week.

 “As the Chairperson of the Committee on Education, I know that out-of-school time programming is critical to the educational, social-emotional, and physical well-being of our youth. What happens outside the classroom is just as vital to our students’ success as what happens inside of it.  I’m very excited to see all of these pieces coming together and that we are on the path to addressing these gaps in an equitable and data-driven manner.”

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National Children's Awareness Month highlights domestic violence's impact on children

By Ismail Lapp-Kamara*

Domestic violence is prevalent in all communities across the United States. It exists across religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, race, gender, educational level, and nationality. Victims include spouses, intimate partners, family members and people co-habiting with one another.  However, it is important to note that a higher percentage of victims of domestic violence are women and domestic violence disproportionately affects people of lower income based on their inability to leave their abuser due to financial reasons.

The District of Columbia is not exempt from the prevalence of domestic violence.  In 2015, 34,966 domestic violence related calls were made to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Additionally, 5,867 people sought assistance at the D.C. court’s domestic violence intake center.  While it is unacceptable for anyone to experience violence of any form, it is particularly detrimental to children. In the United States alone, over 3 million children live in fear through their exposure to domestic violence each year. As a result, the month of June has been established as National Children’s Awareness Month to increase the awareness of the vulnerability of children exposed to violence.

Domestic violence impacts children differently than adults given their developmental differences. At the early years of their cognitive development, children are still learning how to conceptualize the world around them. Whether that is learning what is right and what is wrong or learning what is healthy or unhealthy, it becomes very dangerous for children to live in an environment where there is domestic violence. The number one risk factor in the continuance of domestic violence generationally, is whether an individual witnessed violence between their parents or caretakers.

A child’s framework of the family is powerful. It is where many children look for role models, meaning and guidance in their lives. For children, relationships that are violent and abusive aren’t easily identifiable as unhealthy or wrong.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another”. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, domestic violence can constitute being physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, threats, stalking, and cyberstalking.

It is hard for children to conceptualize family members as perpetrators of any wrongdoing, especially when it is their parents or guardians. Often children have no concept of what domestic violence is or looks like. What happens in the home at a young age is often seen as normal and is not questioned until they are presented with alternative frames of reference. This highlights the importance of education in helping kids to identify domestic violence.

Domestic violence destroys the home as a sanctuary for a child; a space normally associated with safety and comfort. Domestic violence threatens how children conceptualize the home, love and family. Further, it can result in trauma, physical injury and death.  It is something that damages the fabric of the family and can potentially become a cycle, reoccurring generationally, if not addressed through preventative measures.

In D.C. schools today there are preventative programs targeted to reduce domestic violence. Programs such as rape prevention education for students, bullying and violence prevention, and Good Touch/ Bad Touch programs help to teach children what abuse is and give them resources if they need help. Additionally, there are education sessions designed to aid teachers in identifying and preventing unhealthy relationships among their students. A critique I have however is it appears that these are only assigned to public and charter schools within Wards 7 & 8, and not throughout the whole city.

The D.C. Council has done much work to address the issue of domestic violence that occurs across the city through proposed legislation and laws to strengthen the protections and resources available to children and the public. In 2015 and 2016 the D.C council proposed legislation Postsecondary Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 2015 and Campus Sexual Assault Victims Assistance Act of 2016 to require postsecondary institutions to require incoming students to participate in a sexual assault prevention program within the first six weeks of enrollment; in-person trauma-related training for campus safety officials; and required schools to have a sexual assault worker on campus. Additionally, the bill required the registrar to be held responsible for recording information of students who are under investigation for violation of the institutions’ rules on sexual misconduct.

In January of 2017, Councilmember Grosso, along with three of his colleagues, introduced the Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act of 2017. This act seeks to eliminate the statute of limitations in civil court for child sex abuse claims. It also provides a two year period for individuals to bring forward claims that previously were disallowed due to the statute of limitations.  A hearing on this bill was held on June 15, 2017.

Additionally, Chairman Mendelson at the request of the Mayor introduced the Sexual Assault Victims' Rights Amendment Act of 2017 to expand the rights of victims of sexual assault with sexual assault advocates, and to make clear what communications are deemed confidential. Most recently, the Chairman also introduced the Child Neglect and Sex Trafficking Amendment Act of 2017, which was unanimously approved on an emergency and temporary basis.  The purpose of the legislation is to expand on the definition of “neglected child and abused” to include a victim of sex trafficking. It also demanded mandatory reporting by physicians and institutions of the physical abuse identified.

Though much as been done to strengthen protections for victims of domestic abuse, there are areas that need to be improved upon.  For example, the city should explore increasing funding for domestic violence shelters. In 2015, a report by the National Network to End Domestic Violence showed that in one day, 35% of unmet requests were for housing. We should have enough resources as a society to allocate for people fleeing from violence with nowhere else to turn for safety, comfort, and peace of mind. This is a public safety concern given the danger people face when fleeing from their abuser(s). With nowhere to turn, we as a society shouldn’t make people decide between living on the streets or living in a dangerous home.

Another area for continued improvement is to establish a program to make it mandatory to educate not only teachers about healthy and unhealthy relationships, but youth in schools. It is important to teach our youth how to develop healthy relationships so they can help prevent abuse from happening in their own relationships and prevent domestic violence from occurring in the future. This is an investment in their future to help them identify what is healthy and unhealthy in the relationships they have with family, friends, and romantic partners. It would help to prevent the cycle of domestic violence in our communities.

I find it important and essential to conclude by thanking the amazing local domestic violence shelters and organizations that provide shelter and resources to those escaping from domestic violence. These organizations include, but are not limited to: Break the Cycle, House of Ruth, My Sisters Place, The Center for Child Protection and Family Support, and The Family Place. I am personally thankful for their work and tireless commitment to aiding individuals seeking safety from violence and abuse. Without them, I do not know where the thousands of children, individuals, and families (including my own) would be today.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Ismail is a rising senior at Earlham College and will be interning with the Office of Councilmember Grosso for 7-weeks.*

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Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act of 2017

Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: January 10, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Robert White

Summary: To amend Title 12 of the District of Columbia Official Code to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for recovery of damages arising out of child sex abuse claims and to provide a 2-year period for people whose claims were barred by a previous statute of limitations to bring those claims.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you Chairman Mendelson.

There are few actions more depraved than sexual violence against children. Full of boundless curiosity, bold imagination, and care-free spirits, the unique innocence of childhood is something to marvel.

Unfortunately 1 in 10 children will be stripped of this innocence before their 18th birthday.  Alarmingly, children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.

Because children have no comprehension of adult sexual behaviors and activity, any exposure to these aspects of adult life can and often does result in mental and emotional trauma.

The experience of sexual violence as a child is one that endures for the ages.  Most survivors do not come forward until, on average age 42, suffering for years with depression, feelings of guilt and sometimes difficulty forming intimate relationships. 

That is why today, along with Councilmembers Brandon Todd, Robert White and Mary Cheh, I am introducing the Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act of 2017.

This legislation eliminates the civil statute of limitations for recovery of damages arising out of child sex abuse claims. 

Additionally, the bill creates a two-year window for individuals whose claims of child sex abuse were previously time-barred, enabling victims to go back in time and begin working to heal.

Currently, there are 8 states and one U.S. territory that have no civil statute of limitations in cases involving the sexual violence or abuse of children. (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Utah and Guam).

Across the country, this issue is being revisited.  Just last year California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania all introduced child sex abuse statutes of limitations reform bills.  Similarly, Tennessee and Utah enacted child sex abuse statutes of limitations reform measures.

Further, other states have enacted statute of limitations revival measures to include California (2003), which allowed for a 1-year look back window and Connecticut (2010), which revived expired claims up to age 48. 

Child safety depends on legislators holding institutions, not just individual perpetrators, accountable for their actions.  We cannot continue to allow individuals or institutions to maintain their depraved secrets. We must instead encourage and empower victims to come forward and know that a fair and just system is in place to help them right unspeakable wrongs.

I yield the remainder of my time to my co-introducers and I welcome any co-sponsors. 

 

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Public School Health Services Amendment Act of 2017

Public School Health Services Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: January 10, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Jack Evans, Charles Allen, Mary Cheh, Vincent Gray, Elissa Silverman, Trayon White, Anita Bonds

Summary: To amend the District of Columbia Public School Nurse Assignment Act of 1987 to increase the minimum hours per week of registered public school nurse services at elementary and secondary public and public charter schools to 40 hours per week.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you Chairman Mendelson.

This morning along with Councilmembers Nadeau, Evans, Allen, Cheh, Gray, Silverman, T. White, and Bonds, I am introducing the “Public School Health Services Amendment Act of 2017.”

This legislation amends the District of Columbia Public School Nurse Assignment Act of 1987 to increase the minimum hours per week of registered public school nurse services at public and public charter schools to 40 hours per week.

As most of you know, last year, the Deputy Mayor for Education sent a letter to LEA leaders announcing the Department of Health’s new model for the school health services program. Under the new program, registered nurses will continue to provide clinical care for all children with special health care needs who require daily medications or treatment. Additional health professionals and community navigators will work with families, schools, and students’ primary care providers to make sure students receive well-child exams and the preventive services they need to be healthy. 

However, the school nurse service levels were to be reset for all schools at a minimum of 20 hours each week. Schools may receive more nursing coverage depending on the medical needs of student population based on a risk-based health needs assessment.

While families and the public were supportive of adding more allied health professionals to schools to help with care coordination, including community navigators to connect families with local assets, parents were alarmed at the idea that there would not always be a qualified health professional on site to assess and triage sick and injured children or provide emergency care as needed. Simply calling 911 or working parents anytime a child presents with a potential health problem should not be our schools default.

Due to these concerns, the Council was successful in delaying in reduction in nurse services to school year 2017-2018. However, there still needs to be a public conversation about whether the District should be reducing school nursing hours or rather aligning itself with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which both recommend having at least one full-time nurse in every school.

During a public roundtable on school health services last year, witnesses testified for five and a half hours about their concerns regarding the new program, particularly fear of losing full-time school nurses services. Many asked the Council to introduce legislation to increase the statutory minimum school nursing service level to 40 hours per week. To those constituents I say, we heard you. For me, this is about giving our families a piece of mind. Ensuring that there is always a qualified health professional at our public schools is a safety net.

I welcome any and all co-sponsors.

 

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Grosso invites D.C. youth to public roundtable on issues facing the city's young people

Councilmember David Grosso announces the scheduling of a public roundtable of the Committee on Education on youth issues. The roundtable will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 in Hearing Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building.  The purpose of this roundtable is to hear testimony from District of Columbia youth regarding issues that impact their lives as they make their way through the public education system. 

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Grosso tackles pay gap, student debt, and out-of-school time as Council returns to work

For Immediate Release: 
September 20, 2016
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105
mnocella@dccouncil.us

Grosso tackles pay gap, student debt, and out-of-school time as Council returns to work

Washington, DC – The Council of the District of Columbia returned from its annual summer recess today and Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) wasted no time proposing solutions to challenges faced by the District of Columbia. The gender and racial pay gap, funding for critical out-of-school time activities, and the growing student debt problem were the focus of new legislation introduced by the councilmember.

Closing the District Wage Gap

Grosso introduced the Fair Wage Amendment Act of 2016 to address persistent pay inequities for women, especially women of color, face in D.C.

“Equal pay for equal work is a simple concept. Yet, even in D.C. the wage gap that women experience persists,” said Grosso.

The bill would prohibit employers in the city from requesting information about a prospective employee’s salary and benefit history before an employer makes a job and compensation offer.  This would help to end a practice that perpetuates the wage gap.

“Leaving a job that is unfairly compensating you is no guarantee that your pay will be much better when employers make job offers based on previous, deflated wages. We can break that cycle.”

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, women in D.C. make 90 cents for every dollar paid to men.  It’s much worse for women of color: African-American women earn just 56 cents on the dollar and Latinas just 50 cents when compared to white, non-Hispanic men.

Addressing Student Loan Debt

Grosso also introduced the Student Loan Ombudsman Establishment and Servicing Regulation Act of 2016 to address the increasing burden student loans are placing on D.C. residents

“Growing student debt presents a serious challenge for our residents and our local economy, creating a burden that follows them and stifles every aspect of their lives: buying a house, starting a business, saving for retirement, and furthering their education,” Grosso said.  “This bill is a first step that assists District borrowers and increases servicer accountability.”

The bill would create an ombudsman in the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking empowered to establish licensing requirements for student loan servicers in the city.  They would also be charged with informing D.C. residents about their options when seeking student loans and when working to repay them.

Recommitting to Youth Development

Finally, Grosso, along with Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, introduced the Office of Youth Outcomes and Grants Establishment Act of 2016.  The bill establishes a framework for greater strategy-setting, coordination and funding for out-of-school programming.

Out-of-school time programming has myriad benefits to youth who participate, improving their educational, behavioral, and physical health outcomes. Funding for such programming currently comes from many government agencies, including grants to youth-serving groups via the D.C. Trust, which dissolves on September 30.

“What we are proposing today provides equitable access to quality out-of-school time services, which we know help best position our students to succeed,” Grosso said. “As Chairperson of the Committee on Education, I see this coordinated, data-driven, multi-agency effort as an opportunity to create real results, insulated from the political manipulation and financial impropriety of the past.”

The bill establishes both an Office and a Commission on Youth Outcomes and Grants charged with overseeing inter-agency coordination, tracking data and assessing need and outcomes, and making grants to organizations that provide out-of-school programming to District of Columbia youth.

“This legislation is informed by the efforts led by the Deputy Mayors for Health and Human Services and Education to plot the next steps for our out of school time efforts in light of the Trust’s dissolution. I look forward to continuing to work with them and other stakeholders to incorporate their input as we move through the legislative process.”

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Grosso: Dissolution of D.C. Trust is Both a Challenge and an Opportunity

For Immediate Release: 
April 28, 2016
Contact: Keenan Austin
(202) 724-8105
   

Grosso: Dissolution of D.C. Trust is Both a Challenge and an Opportunity

Washington, D.C.--Councilmember David Grosso, Chairperson of the Committee on Education, released the following statement regarding the dissolution of the D.C. Trust, formerly known as the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, after today's budget oversight hearing with the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services:

"Today's hearing provided an important venue to discuss how to move forward in the aftermath of the D.C. Trust's dissolution. I appreciate the thoughtful insights brought by community members and Deputy Mayor Donald. I also understand the frustration and disappointment felt by members of our youth-serving community at how this has all unfolded. I look forward to working with my colleagues, the executive, and stakeholders in the community to chart the best course forward in a collaborative and transparent manner.

Since taking office I have questioned the efficacy of the D.C. Trust in the wake of historical mismanagement. While the Trust provided funding for many critical activities after school and during summer, I was not sure it was the best model for delivering this money. For this reason, I met regularly with the Trust and pressed the agency for answers, such as last fall when important youth-serving programs were facing cuts to their funding. With the dissolution of the Trust, it is imperative that we develop a new mechanism to fund youth programs, in a way that is stable, well-managed, and sufficiently resourced. I will also work with my colleagues to ensure that the $4.92M originally meant for the Trust remains in the FY17 budget for the same purpose, and that funding for summer programs, which the Trust will still administer, gets out as quickly as possible.

While this announcement presents many challenges, I also see it as a moment of opportunity. As Chairperson of the Committee on Education, I am optimistic that we can now completely re-envision what it means for the D.C. government to invest in and support our youth and children from a holistic, cross-agency perspective. The work of the Trust and the programs it funded are critical to the success of our city in general, and key to improving educational achievement in particular. I want our families, young people, and youth-serving organizations to feel reassured that although the D.C. Trust is closing, I will see to it that the government redoubles its commitment to supporting our students, inside and outside of the classroom."

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Agencies Improve Policies for Marginalized Residents to get Identity Documents

Earlier this fall, after discussions with advocates and community members, Councilmember Grosso sent letters to the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Human Services out of concern that some policies are unnecessarily creating barriers for residents when they need to access identity documents. In particular, Grosso was concerned about the ability to get identity cards or driver's licenses for D.C. foster youth in placements outside of D.C., homeless residents, returning citizens, and low income residents who may have trouble producing certain documents or paying certain fees. 

In response to Grosso's letters, both DMV and DHS took immediate steps to improve or clarify their policies, and began discussions to update others. You can read the letters below--first Grosso's letter to DMV and the response from Director Babers, second Grosso's letter to DHS and the response from Director Zeilinger. The Councilmember thanks these agencies for their willingness to engage on these issues and make changes to their policies.

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Grosso Calls on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to Protect Victims of Sexual Abuse

For Immediate Release

September 24, 2015

Contact: Darby Hickey

(202) 724-8105

 

Grosso Calls on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to Protect Victims of Sexual Abuse

Washington, D.C. – Today, at 2:30pm, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) will join victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests at a rally in front of the Wilson Building.  In advance of the rally, Grosso released the following statement:

 “In his prayer meeting with U.S. bishops yesterday, Pope Francis spoke of a ‘generous commitment to bring healing’— this stance must extend to those who have suffered sexual abuse.  I am calling on the Pope to hold the bishops of the Catholic Church accountable for abuse committed on their watch. It is past time for the Church to support better laws that protect children, expose predators, and punish enablers.

Earlier this year I introduced the ‘Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act’ to give child victims of sexual abuse more time to file a civil lawsuit against perpetrators. Our current laws unjustly protect predators, and too often the Church has opposed legal reform. If the Catholic Church is truly committed to healing and forgiveness, then it will support this legislation and efforts to protect children from harm.”

Today, at 2:30pm, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) will rally in support of Grosso’s legislation on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act, introduced by Grosso in March 2015, would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for recovery of damages arising out of child sexual abuse claims.  Additionally, the bill creates a two-year window for individuals whose claims of child sexual abuse were previously time-barred, enabling victims to begin the long road to recovery. The legislation is currently awaiting a hearing in the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary.

 

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Hearing on Issues Facing District of Columbia Youth

Councilmember David Grosso announces the scheduling of a public oversight roundtable of the Committee on Education on youth issues. The hearing will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 in Hearing Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building.  

The purpose of this hearing is to hear testimony from District of Columbia youth regarding issues that impact their lives as they make their way through the education system. Youth, aged 21 and younger, who wish to testify can sign up online at http://bit.ly/YouthHearing10

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Video: Announcement of New Policy Ending Routine Shackling of Youth in Court

On April 3, 2015, Councilmember Grosso joined Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Attorney General Karl Racine to announce a new D.C. Superior Court policy what would end the indiscriminate shackling of youth being tried in Family Court. Grosso has worked on this issue since he learned about it in the course of passing his "Limitations on the Use of Restraints Amendment Act of 2014" which ended the shackling of pregnant inmates and detainees in D.C. adult correctional and juvenile detention facilities.

You can watch the announcement thanks to OCT/DCC:

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Victory: D.C. Family Court to Stop Routine Shackling of Youth

Today, Councilmember Grosso joined Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Kenyan McDuffie and Attorney General Karl Racine to announce today a policy change at the D.C. Superior Court pertaining to youth shackling. The routine and indiscriminate shackling of youth appearing in the Family Court division is coming to an end with the issuance by Chief Judge Lee Satterfield of an administrative order. The Chief Judge's order instructs judges and court personnel to remove the shackles from juveniles after they arrive in a court room for a hearing, unless there is a clear need for the youth to remain in restraints due to danger of harm to the youth or others, or danger of flight. This order is the result of close collaboration between the Chief Judge, Councilmembers, Attorney General, Public Defender Service, and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

Grosso became involved in this issue after successfully passing his "Limitations on the Use of Restraints Amendment Act of 2014", which prohibited the use of shackles on pregnant women and girls in D.C. jail or detention centers. He visited the courts, met with the U.S. Marshals and the Chief Judge, and saw the practice of shackling youth with his own eyes. Grosso and his staff will keep a close eye on implementation of the new administrative order to ensure that youth are not being needlessly shackled. Councilmember Grosso is prepared to introduce legislation if necessary to safeguard the human rights and due process of youth in the courts if the new policy does not live up to its expectations.  You can view the order below.

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Grosso’s Bill Eliminates Civil Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Cases

For Immediate Release
March 17, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105

Grosso’s Bill Eliminates Civil Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Cases

Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act of 2015. This legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations for the recovery of damages arising out of sexual abuse that occurred when a victim was a minor.  Additionally, the bill creates a two-year window for individuals whose claims were previously time-barred.

“There are few actions more depraved than sexual violence or abuse against children,” said Grosso. “Because most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not come forward until much later in their adult lives, we need to ensure that the statute of limitations is not a barrier to justice.  A person who victimizes a child should never be able to hide behind time.”

Currently there are seven states that no longer have a civil statute of limitations for claims of childhood sexual abuse.  Last week, the Utah state legislature passed similar legislation, removing the statute of limitations for civil actions against perpetrators of child sex abuse.

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DHS responds to Grosso's questions about homeless services budget and homeless youth

In December, Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to the D.C. Department of Human Services requesting on update on funds allocated by the Council in its FY15 budget for homeless services. After an oversight hearing on the issue of homelessness at the end of January with the new administration, Grosso sent a new letter with the same questions as well as some additional questions regarding homeless students, homeless youth, and homeless LGBTQ youth.

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Prioritizing Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

The District of Columbia has a fairly strong healthcare delivery system, particularly for children.  We also rank among the top jurisdictions that provide health insurance coverage for the majority of our residents.  Unfortunately, our strengths in the physical health coverage arena have not translated into increased access to and use of behavioral health services.  This is troubling considering that residents with serious mental illnesses are known to have a life expectancy that is 25 years shorter than the residents without such mental illnesses.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2013 Health Barometer, 23,000 D.C. adults experienced serious thoughts of suicide between 2011 and 2012.  Additionally during this timeframe, 14,000 adults were identified as suffering from a serious mental illness.  Nationally, it is estimated that 1 in 4 adults will experience some mental illness in their lifetime (i.e. depression, etc.) unfortunately, a significant number of these individuals will not seek treatment.  The scope of this problem highlights the critical need to expand access to treatment and services for all residents.  This is particularly true when we look at our performance in treating children experiencing mental health or substance abuse problems. 

Between 2011 and 2012, 25% of middle and high school students self-reported symptoms of depression, while one in seven youth actually made a plan about how they would attempt suicide.  Annually, 10% of youth experience a severe mental health problem.  In addition to mental health challenges, national estimates for D.C. indicate that anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 youth below the age of 17 are abusing or are dependent on alcohol and drugs.  Further, in 2013, 350 D.C. children were referred for substance abuse treatment, yet only an estimated 70 children completed the treatment program.

The picture is crystal clear—our residents need mental health and substance abuse services.  They need early preventative care that identifies their needs and treats them appropriately.  Reflecting on this problem in our city, this summer I took the opportunity to tour seven specialty mental health clinics and substance abuse providers across the city, as well as, Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. 

During my tours, I learned about a wide range of treatment programs, including assertive community treatment (ACT).  ACT is a service delivery model that combines comprehensive psychiatric treatment with rehabilitation and includes the necessary support for persons with serious and persistent mental illness.  ACT team members see clients where they are, frequently making home visits and coordinating with a host of partners to provide high-quality services. 

I explored another critical program, trauma-informed care, on my tour of Community Connections.  Trauma-informed care programs recognize that many individuals suffering from mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse have experienced some sort of physical, sexual, mental or emotional trauma in their lifetime, necessitating a comprehensive look at the factors that have contributed to their mental illnesses. 

The trauma-informed care program was eye-opening because it reinforced the fragility of our circumstances.  Any life event, from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, involvement in a car accident can be traumatic, leading to bouts of grief.  Falling into homelessness is a prime example of a trauma that could send any of us along a downward spiral and the city’s housing and homelessness crisis is well-known. 

Our housing challenges were further underscored as I visited Pathways to Housing, a provider that specializes in housing our mentally ill.  Pathways to Housing employs a “housing first” model, providing immediate, low-barrier access to permanent housing and then combining it with supportive treatment services.  The apartment homes are scattered throughout the city and while the program maintains an 85% retention rate, barriers persist.

For example, the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) provides vouchers to help pay for apartments across the city.  Due to rising rental prices however, many residents are being steered to properties located in Wards 7 and 8 because vouchers for those apartments cover the entire rental cost, with money left over—while, in more affluent sections of the city, the vouchers rarely cover even half of the rental cost.  Despite this challenge, Pathways to Housing continues to press forward and typically is able to house a person, from the point of entry into the program through housing placement, within three weeks.

While touring McClendon Center, I had the opportunity to observe a day services program, which enables those dealing with mental illnesses, primarily schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, to learn life skills to assist them in readjusting to life back in society.  Day services programs challenge participants to engage with others, learn about their illnesses and how to manage them and assist them in becoming advocates for themselves.  What struck me about this particular program is that while the service is often viewed as “glorified adult day care,” participants are less likely to be re-hospitalized, demonstrating that this treatment effort not only brings about long-term cost savings by reducing hospitalizations, but significantly improves a participant’s quality of life. 

During several of my visits I learned, in greater depth, about Health Homes, similar in concept to a patient-centered medical home, but with an explicit component addressing the delivery of addiction and substance abuse services.  The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Health Home provision allows a state entity to define a vulnerable population, provide primary care integration and receive 90% Federal Financial Participation through Medicaid for two years, rather than the current 70%.  This program is important because people with serious mental illnesses have a greater number of medical problems, often caused by smoking or self-neglect, co-occurring substance use, or even the medications they take for their psychiatric illnesses.  Because mental health consumers often do not tend to these conditions, they continue to worsen and treatment becomes increasingly more costly.  For this reason, the integration of medical services into a mental health facility is critical.  In addition, it is also valuable to have mental health providers in the medical clinics.   Health Homes is necessary, which is why the District of Columbia is currently working to implement this model with a proposed start date in 2015.

For me, the most heartbreaking tour took place at a facility specializing in the treatment of children impacted by grief and trauma.  The Wendt Center employs the Resilient Scholars Program, which is currently available in 21 different schools (charter and DCPS) in D.C.  The program helps children cope with trauma, which is challenging because many of the students suffer from polytraumas, the occurrence of multiple traumas.  These students are burdened by poverty, the experience of violence in their home or community, and so much more.  Recognizing that the stress of all this weight sometimes manifests as physical pain, the Resilient Scholars Program helps students to identify where they are hurting and why they are hurting; helping them to develop healthy mechanisms to begin to heal.  Viewing the students’ artwork was painful.  To read about their daily struggles and view the images of violence they had drawn was overwhelming and highlighted the critical need for this type of program in all of our schools.  The District of Columbia’s increased emphasis on standardized testing is an added stressor but programs like this one can work to improve student performance by addressing their grief and trauma. 

A common thread across all of the mental health and substance abuse clinics was a fervent commitment to the humanization of mental illness.  This was never more apparent than at Saint Elizabeth’s.  Saint Elizabeth’s residents are treated with dignity.  Upon their admission they are no longer, “prisoners” or “patients,” they are simply individuals receiving care.  The facility provides “homes” where residents are housed in dormitory style living quarters and afforded the opportunity to participate in various programs and other outlets to include a Patient Advisory Council.  Further, those residents preparing to transition back into the community are equipped with life skills such as learning to cook, do laundry, and operate a computer. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of my Saint Elizabeth’s tour was that residents, those on the transitional therapy floor, are not quarantined off from staff but allowed to freely walk the halls and actively participate in their treatment.  At the new facility, residents are not stigmatized; they are not caged nor subjected to a prison inspired atmosphere but treated as whole human beings.  By the conclusion of my tour, I was impressed with the staff, the facility and the level of care provided.

In addition to the facilities mentioned, I also had the opportunity to tour Green Door, Catholic Charities and CATAADA House of Calvary Healthcare.  All of these tours left me with the sense that our city is moving in the right direction.  While our mental health providers are unsung heroes treating some of the most vulnerable among us, there is still work to do.  With the deinstitutionalization of mental health services in D.C., community mental health providers expanded significantly.  At the time, the supply of services met the demand; however, as time has worn on the demand for services continues to increase.  This has presented some challenges, especially for our youth, who find it increasingly more difficult to get treatment from qualified child psychiatrists due to their scarcity.  Additionally, as providers ready themselves for the ability to now bill Medicaid for substance abuse treatment, new concerns will arise. 

We have a significant number of residents, especially youth, who need services but are not getting treatment.  This cannot continue.  City agencies and the providers themselves must continue to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse and actively work to market and promote their services.  Our residents deserve the best treatment and it appears to me that we are providing it but those in need cannot take advantage of what they do not know about.  Mental illness and substance abuse issues affect us all.  The links between homelessness and mental illness as well as the mental illnesses of those that are incarcerated are well-studied.  For this reason, I made it a priority to not only visit our service providers but also a homeless shelter and the D.C. jail to better understand the full spectrum of these complexities.  The health and wellness of our residents is a priority for me and I will continue to advocate for quality services and work with D.C. agencies and providers to address the barriers that they face and promote the services they provide.

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D.C. defense attorneys want juveniles released from shackles in court

By Keith Alexander, August 24, 2014, Washington Post

She had just turned 13 when she ran away from home and got into a scuffle with the police officer who found her.

Charged with assault, the teen was housed in a youth center operated by the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. When it was time for her first appearance in D.C. Superior Court, a DYRS agent instructed the teen to kneel on a chair and placed iron shackles, which were connected to a metal belt around her waist, onto her ankles and wrists. She waddled into the courtroom.

“I felt like a dog on a leash. Like an animal,” the teen, now 16, recalled. Embarrassed and frightened, she remembered seeing her mother in the courtroom and several adults she did not know. She started to cry, but couldn’t wipe her tears because the restraints kept her from raising her arms to her face. Her attorney, Penelope Spain, asked that the shackles be removed for the hour-long proceeding, but the judge denied the request.

The girl’s case and others like it have led advocates and defense attorneys to call on the court to end its practice of routinely shackling incarcerated youths during court proceedings — and to instead use the restraints only in instances where a juvenile is deemed to be a risk.

While some say the restraints keep defendants and observers safe in situations that can become tense, opponents argue shackles are demeaning and unnecessary in a system aimed more at rehabilitation than punishment. They note that adult defendants in the same courthouse, even those who have been convicted of violent crimes, can have their restraints removed in court.

The practice in D.C. Superior Court differs from other courts in the Washington metropolitan area. Court and police officials in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Fairfax counties, as well as Alexandria, said the decision about whether to shackle a juvenile defendant in court is made on a case-by-case basis. In Fairfax and Montgomery counties, for example, shackles are removed from the juveniles once they enter the courtroom, officials said.

With backing from the National Juvenile Defender Center, D.C. Lawyers for Youth and the D.C. Public Defender Service, D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) is championing proposed legislation that would eliminate universal shackling of juvenile defendants and instead seek to have judges make a determination based on each youth’s history and behavior since their arrest. Grosso said he hoped the bill would go to a vote by the end of the year.

“They have been shackling kids who have no violent past. It’s a horrible thing. A lot of these kids are nonviolent offenders. We don’t want to send them down the wrong path by shackling somebody who doesn’t need to be shackled,” Grosso said.

The District is unusual in that it is the only place in the country where U. S. marshals escort juvenile defendants. In most places, youth rehabilitation services, sheriffs or police transport and oversee young defendants.

David Neumann, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, said the service’s policy requires all prisoners, regardless of age, to be in restraints when in the courtroom. An exception is made during jury trials, he said, but youths are tried before judges. Neumann said if a judge orders the restraints on a juvenile be removed, the marshal must confer with a supervisor “to ensure that alternative security measures are in place.”

One U.S. marshal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have authorization from the service, said even youth held for nonviolent crimes can become volatile without warning. Restraints, he said, protect the defendants and those around them.

In a 2012 study, Suffolk University Law School professor Kim M. McLaurin found that 36 states allowed for indiscriminate shackling of juveniles in court. But at least 11 states, including North Carolina, Florida and New York, had banned the practice, she said.

McLaurin said unnecessary shackling sends the wrong message. “Juvenile court is supposed to be about rehabilitation,” she said. “You don’t achieve that by putting children in handcuffs.”

D.C. Court officials said in a prepared statement that judges can order removal of a youth’s restraints: “When appropriate, a judge can require a juvenile’s hands to be unshackled. At the time of this request, the judge will work in conjunction with the U.S. Marshals, who are charged with protecting juvenile courtrooms, to ensure the safety of the juvenile in custody, the judge, court staff, and spectators,” court spokeswoman Anita Jarman wrote.

But some defense attorneys argue juveniles should not be shackled in court unless a specific reason is given. Alec Karakatsanis, a defense attorney and co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights law firm, said the handcuffs distract juvenile defendants from concentrating on their case and prevent them from writing notes to their attorney.

On three recent Mondays, a Washington Post reporter was permitted to watch juvenile court. About two dozen teens appeared on charges that included shoplifting, assault and carrying a weapon. The Post generally does not identify juveniles charged in crimes.

Several D.C. public defenders asked that their clients be released from the shackles during the proceedings. Each time, prosecutors did not object to the request and the judges deferred to the marshals who then denied the request.

In a case involving a 17-year-old charged with carrying a firearm, Magistrate Judge Julie Breslow told the juvenile he could sit at the table, which she said would help relieve the pain to his wrists. “I appreciate your request. I understand the policy of the U.S. marshals is to have them shackled. It’s not a policy I get to make a decision on,” Breslow said in court.

In another case, Magistrate Judge Tara J. Fentress asked a DYRS representative who was standing next to a 14-year-old charged with assault whether the shackles should be removed, as the teen’s attorney requested. The DYRS employee responded: “It’s the policy that all defendants be shackled.” Fentress denied the request.

David Shapiro of the National Juvenile Defender Center said that having juveniles — many of whom are only charged with a crime and not yet convicted — shuffled into the courtroom shackled makes them feel as if “they are less than human.”

“We’re not asking to take out all shackles completely. But if you’re going to put kids in chains, there should be a justification for it,” he said.

The teen charged with assaulting the police officer had several hearings, during which she was shackled, her attorney said. She eventually admitted responsibility for her crime and was committed to a youth facility for a time. Today, she’s living with her mother and finishing high school.

She said she still remembers the feeling of the restraints. “It’s just not fair,” she said.

D.C. Public Defender Andrew Crespo remembers a 2011 case where his client, who was 8 at the time, was led into the courtroom in 2-pound restraints. The boy, who weighed about 60 pounds, sat in a chair with his feet dangling. Prosecutors said the boy allegedly touched a little girl inappropriately at his birthday party hours earlier and he was arrested for sexual assault. Before the hearing, Crespo said, his client kept whispering: “My mommy said I can still have my birthday cake. I can still have my cake, right?” Crespo recalled. The charges were later dropped.

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