Symposium begins with talk on kids at risk

by Kathleen McDermott | 4/7/00 5:00am

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan, Jr. '72 urged Dartmouth students to help troubled children struggling through the justice system in his speech yesterday in the Rockefeller Center.

"You can speak, and you can act on behalf of those children" who are abused, neglected, or delinquent, Sullivan told Dartmouth students at the kickoff speech to the 2000 Senior Symposium.

Sullivan began by addressing the difficulty of identifying a "good" childhood and the numbers of children abused each year.

"While we all may disagree about the answer, we would all agree that child abuse and juvenile delinquency are not part of [a good childhood]," Sullivan said.

However, Sullivan said 364,000 children are abused every year in the United States and that for every social worker, there are 60-90 children's cases to handle.

"We as a society must ask ourselves what we should do about child abuse and delinquency," Sullivan said.

Sullivan discussed the juvenile court system's history and current policy debates as a part of America's solution to child abuse.

According to Sullivan, prior to the 1890s, there were no special provisions for children in the justice system; they were tried and convicted as adults. However, he said reformers sought to have children treated and rehabilitated rather than punished, and by the 1890s special juvenile courts took hold in virtually every jurisdiction.

Judges in these courts were granted more discretion in dealing with children, basing their decisions on the welfare of the child.

Further reforms in the 1960s ensured that children were still granted due process of law in the juvenile courts, Sullivan said.

Sullivan then described how typical delinquency and abuse cases proceed. The powers and duties of a juvenile court are slightly different from other courts; judges deal with the specifics of a child's treatment, rehabilitation and protection, giving instructions for both care and follow-up, Sullivan said.

In fitting with the theme of the Senior Symposium -- "A Time to Speak, A Time to Act"-- Sullivan urged Dartmouth students to help the juvenile court system in some way.

"Each of you can act to help American courts," Sullivan said. He urged students to consider careers in the juvenile justice field, either as case workers or probation officers in the juvenile courts, or as lawyers or judges specializing in juvenile law. To pre-law students he urged, "As you head off to law school, consider using your law degree to help in the juvenile courts."

Sullivan said those pursuing other career fields can still have a positive impact on the system of juvenile law.

He said most students at Dartmouth would be qualified to volunteer as a court-appointed special advocate, someone who advocates for a child going through the justice system and makes sure the child's welfare is not forgotten.

We need to seek to prevent child abuse and neglect, not just treat it, Sullivan said.

He urged students to "be on the lookout for abuse and neglect" and speak out for the funding of children's programs. "Make the prevention of child abuse and neglect one of your causes. It is challenging work to be sure," Sullivan said.