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Wednesday, October 01, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 1/9/2014 - Updated: 8 months ago

COMMENTARY

Bleeding heart with a hard-nosed message

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

The Honorable Andy Devine is in his 10th decade on this Earth. He is 92 and has been retired from his last big job in public service — juvenile court judge — for more than 20 years.

But he’s not planted in a rocking chair. He’s still pitching. He greeted me at his home, after the Monday morning storm, with a snow shovel.

At this point in his career, which, almost uniquely, includes being a state representative, Lucas County commissioner, city councilman, and judge, Mr. Devine is both an icon and an elder in the city, and he hopes to use what time he has left to push his issues.

The judge has championed many causes passionately through the years including reform of county government.

He is also proud of the way politics was conducted back in the day — in a professional and bipartisan manner. Republicans and Democrats worked together at the state and local level, once the elections were over. If someone had a good idea, Mr. Devine says, it flew. Now we are locked in partisan gridlock: “I don’t know how we got in this box, but it’s bad.”

But the issue closest to his heart is how to help kids in trouble — trouble often ultimately caused by their parents. Child welfare is the abiding passion of Judge Devine’s life.

When he was juvenile judge, a court he lobbied the legislature to create, Mr. Devine tried all sorts of programs and approaches to help kids. He was the first funder of CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates for children — and of Mountain Mentors. He had a psychiatrist and two psychologists on his staff. His name is synonymous in this community with compassion and progressive ideas.

It’s interesting, then, that these days the big idea he is championing is “responsibility” — specifically, parental responsibility. He says: “I want to go back to the parenting of my childhood — in the 1920s.”

Schools and social workers can help a child, he says. But they cannot raise a child. They can help parents with problems, and even teach them certain parenting skills. But they cannot parent for the parent.

And nothing can fill the gap left by a parent to fails to nurture and protect his child.

When he was on the bench, Mr. Devine would threaten a parent with jail time if that parent’s child was chronically truant. Sometimes a parent would call his bluff, and live to regret it.

Mr. Devine would like to see this approach extended. If junior is arrested for gang activity, arrest the parent too. He is most impressed with what humorist Bill Cosby, a longtime civil rights activist, preaches to the African-American community: personal responsibility.

And parents.

The odds of a child overcoming a childhood of neglect, poverty, and, sometimes, exposure to criminal activity with only third party interventions are low, says Mr. Devine. He tells me about a boy with whom he and a psychiatrist worked. The boy was borderline sociopathic. And they got him into a very good residential program. His behavior changed markedly. Until he returned to his home.

And yet, no parent, Mr. Devine tells me, wants to fail his child. That is why we must insist that no parent does.

Help parents be parents; but hold them to account.

“Someone,” says the old judge, “has to be judgmental.”

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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