Stephen Rideout, who presided for many years as the chief judge of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, addressed the Giving Circle of Alexandria’s fall forum October 20.
Rideout pleaded for earlier interventions for vulnerable and at-risk children. He noted the children he saw in juvenile court had slipped through the cracks time and again. Children who suffered from learning disabilities, mental health issues or substance abuse were simply passed from grade to grade, until they ended up in the juvenile justice system for truancy or criminal activity, he said. The courts were then asked to redress a problem schools and parents could not solve.
“It’s not just about reaching out to children,” Rideout said. “It’s how early we can reach them. And, of course we need to reach parents, because we can’t reach kids this age without their parents.”
It costs about $175,000 to keep three children in juvenile detention for nine months, Rideout said. In contrast, it would cost about $180,000 a year to provide a book each month to 70 percent of Alexandria’s 5-and-younger population.
Community initiatives — like those of the Giving Circle — focusing on early childhood interventions can make a vital difference in helping at-risk children overcome the odds, Rideout said.