Putting a focus on Minnesota’s youth

Published 5:24 pm Saturday, April 11, 2015

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

While I tend to focus on issues surrounding agriculture, workforce issues and jobs, as those sorts of bills pass through the committee I chair, I think it’s useful to touch on other issues passing through the legislative process as well.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee heard several interesting bills this week that address Minnesota’s youth. The last year has seen the needs of disadvantaged youth under the spotlight by local and state news outlets.

This fact has been brought to the attention of the legislature and I am pleased to see these bills getting the attention they deserve. The following bills are all being considered for inclusion in the Senate Judiciary’s Budget Bill that will be put together in the next week.

One of those bills was for Youth Intervention Programs which has a long history of positive results in Minnesota. Studies show that by intervening early, youth are more likely to avoid legal trouble later in life. Youth Intervention Programs help kids be referred to programs, which work with children and their families to get the support they need. This program has proven successful at keeping more kids out of the criminal justice system, leads to better outcomes in school, and creating more productive adults.

Another bill addresses the need for more support for the startup of child advocacy centers. When a child is the subject of sexual and/or domestic abuse, the child and their family can go to these safe advocacy centers.

These centers are a site where law enforcement, child protection services, and psychologists can be available to assist the child and their family. The child would be interviewed in a one-on-one setting, but care professionals would be able to listen in on the interview to help direct questions on certain topics.

The goal of these centers is to create a kinder, gentler atmosphere for children and to be more efficient in delivering these necessary services in a single setting for the child.

Finally, the Judiciary Committee also heard testimony this week about a sexual assault primary prevention program. The bill authorizes the commissioner of public safety to award grants to programs that provide sexual assault prevention services, and seeks to prevent the perpetration of sexual assault.

Media reports on the rise of sexual assaults, particularly on college campuses is especially troubling, and I hope the Sexual Assault Prevention bill is successful in connecting money to programs with a proven track record of prevention.

All of these bills address needs in communities across Minnesota. By ensuring children who have been sexually or domestically abused get the care and attention they need, and by referring at-risk kids to youth intervention programs, the state is saying these children are a priority, and we want to see them succeed later in life.

With only five weeks left of session, the pace at the capitol is going to get even faster. In the next few weeks most bills will be put together and soon the Senate will be voting on more bills in the chamber. If there are any issues you’d like to see addressed please feel free to contact my office at 651-296-9248.