Lindsay Stafford Mader 2014-03-22 09:23:43
TYLA’S NEWEST INITIATIVE EDUCATES KIDS, PARENTS, ATTORNEYS, AND THE PUBLIC ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE MOST ADULTS WHO WERE IN GRADE SCHOOL AFTER 1983 LIKELY HAVE VIVID MEMORIES OF D.A.R.E., the once-widespread national drug education program known for its police officer instructors and friendly German shepherd visitors. But many young children nowadays have no knowledge of this program; in 2002, D.A.R.E. was deemed ineffective by the National Research Council and the surgeon general and subsequently lost 80 percent of its federal funding, causing many schools in states around the country, including Texas, to abandon it. While some schools have continued with revised D.A.R.E. lessons, others are trying alternative drug education programs or are lacking curriculum on the issue altogether. The majority of arrested juveniles, meanwhile, are on substances or have abused substances in the past. Recognizing the void of a broadly effective drug education program in our state’s schools, the Texas Young Lawyers Association is setting out to help address the situation. Its new initiative, BSAFE—Battling Substance Abuse For Everyone—aims to teach students, parents, teachers, lawyers, and the public about the legal and health risks of substance abuse and addiction, as well as warning signs, resources for help and information, and the drug court system that provides an alternative to jail time and an avenue for recovery and rehabilitation. “As a family law attorney, substance abuse is something that I deal with in a lot of my cases,” said TYLA President Kristy Blanchard. “I see the issues in our society, and I want to do everything that I can to help prevent kids from taking that first pill, smoking that first joint—whatever the drug of choice is going to be—and educate them about the ramifications, not only legally but also physically, of addiction and how it affects people.” As a multimedia program, TYLA hopes that BSAFE will be a comprehensive substance abuse learning opportunity. The main tenant is a three-part DVD that includes a 20- to 30-minute video for middle school, junior high, and high school students on the physical, psychological, and legal effects of substance abuse and addiction. Straying from D.A.R.E., in which a police officer provides the majority of instruction, the BSAFE video features testimonials from children, teenagers, and young adults who have overcome substance abuse and addiction. “We’ve looked at all the criticism of the D.A.R.E. program in order to not do those things,” said Blanchard. “The biggest criticism is that it incorporated police officers. And it was always adults dictating instead of a peer-on-peer situation. That’s why it was important for us to find survivors who were young and who the kids could relate to. I hope that the video will be a way to start the conversation and be an eye-opener so that by the time these kids get offered that first substance, they’re educated about it and aren’t walking into it blindly.” TYLA worked with the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department to obtain teacher feedback on the videos, and they are teaming up with educators to get the lessons into schools. “We hope to get this project to all of the conventions and conferences that teachers attend so that they’re aware of it,” said Blanchard. Once a school agrees to participate in the BSAFE program, TYLA will recruit young attorneys around the state to present the video in classes and have conversations with students, basically saying, “This is the deal, this is what these substances are about, you’re going to be offered this, so just be smart about it.” The second part of the DVD, which is directed toward parents and adults who have kids or other family members struggling with substance abuse or addiction, explains the warning signs of potential problems and provides information on what to do and what not to do when dealing with the situation. TYLA also will distribute pamphlets for parents and teachers that complement this section of the DVD. The third part of the DVD educates kids, parents, and lawyers on the drug court system in Texas. It covers the specialty-court model, where a juvenile or adult accused of a drug or alcohol-related crime pleads guilty and then undergoes comprehensive supervision, drug testing, and treatment services. If the person graduates from the program, the charge to which they pleaded guilty can be dropped, reduced, or deleted from public record. While some groups oppose the typical drug court requirements that defendants plead guilty and offenders are sent to prison if they fail to complete each requirement, other groups and studies illustrate a successful program. A 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office, for example, found that drug courts generally reduce recidivism. “Our jails are already overcrowded,” said Blanchard, “and sending somebody to jail who has these kinds of issues is not going to help. They’ll get back out and start using again.” Because many families facing drug charges in the court system are unaware of drug courts, TYLA intends for the video to spread the word. “While children and parents understand that drug use can have legal consequences, many are not informed that drug courts are an avenue for addicts to accomplish their goals of recovery,” said Shivali Sharma, staff attorney for the 6th Court of Appeals in Texarkana and member of TYLA’s BSAFE committee. “The drug court segment of the program was created to warn young addicts of consequences they may face, educate parents and teachers about the resources available to help them, and inspire those affected by drug addiction to believe that recovery is possible. In addition to playing the video at parent-teacher conferences and in classrooms, TYLA encourages criminal defense attorneys to show it to their clients and their families.” Because many drug courts lack sufficient funding, TYLA also hopes to distribute the DVD to juries across the state so that jurors will be more informed on the option of electing to donate their stipends to the Texas drug court system. With support from a Texas Bar Foundation grant, TYLA has completed the BSAFE videos, which are now available on its website (tyla.org/bsafe) and are expected to be implemented in schools later this spring. Several county courts have already expressed interest in showing the video to jurors as soon as possible. “Children are the next generation of adults who are going to be running our world,” said Blanchard. “I feel that as a law-based society, we have a duty to go out there and help the community with these issues.”
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/BSAFE/1666957/202385/article.html.