ON FRIDAY, MARCH 3, City Council hosted a hearing calling for the city's Department of Human Services to end the regressive practice of collecting child support to pay the costs of parents' child's detention or delinquent placement.
Just hours before the hearing, as a result of effective advocacy and interdepartmental cooperation, Philadelphia DHS announced that it would take action to stop this practice immediately. This is a major step forward for juvenile-justice reform - not just for Philadelphia, but potentially for state and the nation.
Around the time Johnson called for the hearings in November 2016, Philadelphia DHS had requested state approval to end the practice.
Just one day before the March 3 hearing, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services indicated via written testimony that Philadelphia could opt to end the practice. The city's DHS acted quickly to exercise this option - a practice viewed by the city as destabilizing to families.
This win was the result of cooperation by a collection of local and national organizations. The city's outstanding juvenile advocacy community investigated this issue, published reports and advocated for reform, including former Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, Temple Law's Justice Lab, the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project and the Juvenile Law Center.
Local and national press amplified these voices and brought this issue to the public.
In the weeks since, Philadelphia DHS has taken the next steps to unravel this practice. DHS filed motion to vacate 400 current child-support orders related to detention and delinquency placements, effective March 3, 2017, representing over $1 million in funds no longer due.
Philadelphia made the right choice. Ending child-support collection for detention and delinquency is a major win for families and for juvenile justice reform in Philadelphia.
While more must be done to address poverty and reduce youth interaction with the justice system, we are committed to working together to strengthen families and lift up our youth.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson
Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa, Philadelphia Department of Human Services
About this Project
The Inquirer is one of 15 news organizations in the Philadelphia Reentry Reporting Collaborative, a solutions-oriented focus on issues facing people coming out of prison. The piece is part of an occasional series — across the region and across platforms — on the challenges of reentry and what can be done about them.
To read our collective work, and read more about the project: https://reentryreporting.org/
I was gratified to learn that residents of South Philadelphia had discovered the healing properties of African drumming, as outlined in a piece by Valerie Russ. For so many years, I have questioned and petitioned the Philadelphia School District to make African dance and drumming a part of the arts curriculum. But my concerns have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears.
In reality, African drumming from the start of the enslavement of Africans in America has been deemed as dangerous to the extent that African drumming was outlawed. Outlawed because drumming represented a means of communicating that could not be deciphered by enslavers. Additionally, Western religion preached that drumming was to be shunned as a practice of the non-civilized.
But Philadelphia is very fortunate because for decades and decades, it has been home to African drum culture. Generations of Black men and women have studied the art form in many of the African American dance schools, such as Sydney King, John Hines and Arthur Hall. These emerging drummers were under the tutelage of traditional African master drummers representing the entirety of the diaspora. But again, sadly, these artists have not found a place in public or higher education in Philadelphia. When I was in elementary school, I was taught square dancing. Square dancing! Years later it was still taught in public schools. But African dance and African drumming are still not part of the curriculum except for a few charter schools. Why haven't we linked the Universal Dance and Drum Ensemble, the Kulu Mele Dance Company with the school system as a way of providing employment for these talented performing artists while offering instruction in these cultural art forms to our children as a way of sharing the cultural heritage that extends beyond European culture?