The Need for Multicultural Services to Overcome the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Rose Pavlov, GoLocalWorcester Child Expert
“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.” – Marian Anderson
The “school-to-prison pipeline” crisis is impacting American youth nationwide as they are steered down a path from schools into the juvenile court system and then, ultimately, into the larger criminal justice system. This road unfairly impinges on their right to and opportunities for an education and a sound future.
Minority Students Impacted by Discriminatory Trends
Recent research shows minority students are those largely impacted by the discriminatory filtering trends in every facet of the school-to-prison pipeline. Whether it is limited language ability to effectively communicate concerns, irregular access to support resources or lack of awareness of educational rights, immediate efforts for such vulnerable communities to overcome the “pipeline” are imperative.
Overcoming Cultural Challenges
There are considerable obstacles in bridging children and families with the multicultural services they require. A major challenge is getting parents or guardians to recognize mental health and behavioral issues, since it is considered to bring shame or humiliation to families in many cultures. In others, even if parents acknowledge concerns regarding their child(ren), they do not know where to turn for a trusted source so as to avoid being misunderstood or mislabeled (due to a lack of culturally literate providers). Challenges further persist based on a child’s ethnicity or faith. In some religions, Western mental health strategies are not highly regarded or not a viable option due to spiritual doctrine.
Role of Racial Discrimination
Furthermore, racial discrimination is rampant in school disciplinary tactics and exemplified in the obvious discrepancy of misappropriated and harsh punishments. Studies have shown consistency of extreme sanctions against minority youth as compared to their Caucasian counterparts. An alarming statistic from 2003 revealed that African-American youth comprised 16% of the American youth population and yet 45% of juvenile incarcerations. African-American youth are four times more likely to receive harsher penalties and be incarcerated as compared to their Caucasian classmates, as cited by the ACLU.
Impact on Special Needs Kids
Additionally, children with delayed development and special learning needs are targeted throughout the various stages of the school-to-prison pipeline. Those with socio-emotional sensitivities and cognitive impairments are predisposed to being funneled out of school and into the juvenile justice system for behavioral misconduct. According to the ACLU, “while approximately 8.6% of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that impact their ability to learn…students with disabilities are represented in jail at a rate nearly four times that.
Creating a Plan for Action
The above facts and figures mandate the need for access to culturally sensitive services that embrace, respect and uphold each child. Professional caregivers should be required to undergo cultural sensitivity training as part of their professional development. Schools should closely partner with community agencies offering multicultural support services, home-based and beyond, to create a broad and tight network. A path to success for each child needs to be a priority if we want to save our nation’s youth.