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Frank Ferry: Teens and drugs: a community at a crossroad

Live from City Hall

Posted: May 21, 2010 11:20 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Raising teenagers is one of the most challenging experiences that a parent will ever embark upon. As with previous generations, there is always pressure for teens to engage in activities that are both dangerous and illegal, and that usually means drugs and/or alcohol.

According to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, your teen will likely try drugs or alcohol by the age of 15.

Teens as young as 13 have often already tried drugs as powerful as cocaine, and over 32 percent have already had their first alcoholic drink by that age. Teens might tell themselves they will only try a drug once, but many teens find themselves under continual peer pressure to continue to experiment with drugs and "join the party."

Santa Clarita is not immune to these pressures and the effects that teen drug and alcohol abuse can have on our teens and our community.

Over the last several years, many partnerships have emerged to help deal with the devastating effects of teen drug and alcohol use.

In 2000, our city founded the Blue Ribbon Task Force, in response to concerns voiced about the increasing use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco by local teens. The task force is comprised of local law enforcement, schools, nonprofits, businesses, city staff, parents and teens. Over the last decade, the Blue Ribbon Task Force has supported random drug-testing for high school athletes, tackled zoning issues to keep adult-oriented establishments out of teen-frequented areas and endorsed legislation that would track down individuals attempting to offer drugs to minors.

The city's innovative Girls Issues Group (GIG) provides high-risk teenage girls with support, assistance and resources to help them cope with the issues they are facing, avoid gangs and drugs and make positive choices. Thirty teens participated in the program in 2009.

Last year, over 80 teens and 60 parents participated in ACTION, a nonprofit program that provides drug testing and weekly parent-teen support groups, to address drug and alcohol abuse, and to work through the family issues that drug use creates.

The SCV Youth Project, another nonprofit group that is part of both the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the Anti-Gang Task Force, provides on-campus services including peer mentoring, support groups and classroom presentations on various teen issues.

VIDA (Vital Interventions Directional Alternative) is a 16-week program funded by the city and implemented by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Department for high-risk teens. The program includes drug counseling, parent and teen counseling, a rigorous physical training regiment, and various life-skills classes. Santa Clarita's VIDA program continues to have the highest percentage of graduates in Los Angeles County.

The city's funding for education and prevention also extends to the STAR (Success Through Awareness and Resistance) program, which provides drug-education programs in elementary schools to create early awareness about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

Details about these programs and other resources within the city can be found in the "Parent Tool Kit." Along with the guidebook "Straight Answers to Tough Questions," the "Parent Tool Kit" provides parenting information and resources to assist in talking to their child about alcohol, drugs and other issues. Over 12,000 kits have been distributed since 2000.

With all of this time, money, effort and focus, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Drug and alcohol use among teens continues to be prolific. At a recent City Council meeting, I requested, and our City Council agreed, to reach out to the William S. Union Hart District Board to start the conversation about improving their zero tolerance policy on drug and alcohol use. The current policy calls for immediate five-day suspension of a student found in possession of, or using, drugs or alcohol.

Generally the student is then moved to a different school within the district and referred to a drug and alcohol prevention education curriculum (DAPEC), but there is no requirement for the student to obtain help for his or her drug problem.

The student could also be recommended for expulsion, unless the principal determines this is inappropriate under the circumstances. The Hart district is an amazing school district and does an excellent job of educating our children. However, I believe we can do better in assisting our youth in getting the help they need for their drug or alcohol problems.

The concerns about zero tolerance that we would like to address are with regard to the consequences when students are found using or possessing drugs or alcohol. Instead of just expelling the student and moving them to a different school within the district, we are interested in discussing how we, as a community, can help heal these teens and put them back on the road to reaching their full potential.

It is my hope, and the hope of our City Council, that we can engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Hart district board to more effectively deal with teen drug use in Santa Clarita.

The city of Santa Clarita is committed to this unified endeavor and to working with local parents, all of the school districts, nonprofits and the community to assure that the information and resources needed is available to help guide our children in making the right choices.

Frank Ferry is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council and can be reached at Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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