BY DAVID A. MITTELL JR.
As a young man I called myself a liberal Democrat. From 1967 to 1979, I worked with delinquent and emo-tionally disturbed children. The work was a pillar of my education. Having studied psychology in college, my first insight came when I embroiled myself in an argument with a very disturbed 11-year-old boy, and real-ized after several minutes that he was right, I was wrong —and our humanity was equal.
Holding up the “pillar” was Gerald Wright, founder of DARE, which operated the group homes I helped run. As a Methodist minister in Essex from 1958 to 1962, he found time to work with teens in Boston. In 1964, he opened DARE’s first group home. At 74, he has been working with troubled youth for 51 years.
“Liberalism” said: “This is what state government should be doing,” and under Gov. Francis Sargent, it was. But politicians prefer ribbon-cuttings to funding ongoing programs. In 1973, the legislature was set to cut group-home care. To protest, Gerry chained himself to the State House gate. When Sargent heard he was out there, he said something unprintable, then raised hell to get the funds!
A new threat came in 1980, when holdover appointees of Gov. Michael Dukakis in Gov. Edward King’s Office For Children incorrectly assumed Gerry had opposed his re-election for governor in the 1978. Gerry has al-ways had cordial relations with Dukakis, but his unauthorized “moles” set out to destroy DARE. Gerry sal-vaged one group home in Jamaica Plain and started over in 1982 as Community Caring. When Gov. Deval Patrick was sworn in 25 years later, Community Caring operated 10 residences, including one in Gerry’s own Jamaica Plain home outfitted to house a paralyzed shooting victim.
Under Sargent, judges and state workers cooperated to relocate residents of Dickensian warehouses for truants and “stubborn children” the governor had ordered closed. Under Patrick, reform has devolved to re-naming the Department of Social Services the Department of Children & Families and hiring 28 managed-care “lead agencies” to arguably duplicate the work of DCF workers.
I doubt the toil of rescuing troubled children changes much, but trends come and go. Currently, “family reunification” is in, and group-home care is out. That really means sending the girl back to where she was raped and removing the boy from the only stable environment he remembers. It also means eliminating 86 group-home beds in Boston. Gerry Wright’s mission, which began when Foster Furcolo was governor, has not survived Gov. Patrick in recognizable form.
By my lights, a governor who would let these programs close at a time when children are shooting children almost daily is nowise a liberal.
The writer is a Jamaica Plain-based syndicated columnist. These comments are excerpted from a longer ar-ticle.