Judge Tim Philpot: Troubled children don't need more government; healing based in faith, family

April 21, 2014 

  • At issue: March 16 Herald-Leader editorial, "Reform juvenile justice; bipartisan bill good start but would still jail status offenders"

I read the recent editorial on reforming juvenile justice because I am a judge in a juvenile Status Court. The paper complains that too many kids from Status Court go to juvenile detention. Some good points are made.

But the paper doesn't quite understand the dynamics of Status Court.

In complaining about detention for status kids, the editorial sarcastically asks: "What did [they] do that got them thrown in among the real bad apples?... Some of them had the audacity to commit status offenses, such as skipping school or running away from home..."

The paper would have us believe that choir boys are being locked up and thrown in with young criminals daily. That is a very unfair characterization.

In Fayette County status cases, detention is always short-lived, rare and only for the protection of the child and their family. The primary charge which results in these short detentions is that the children are "beyond the control of parents or schools." These kids have typically committed crimes, but the government, instead of charging them as criminals, provides all sorts of social services to help the child and family.

Sometimes it helps.

These "beyond control" kids are typically either smoking marijuana, drinking, staying out all night, having unprotected sex with multiple partners, associating with gangs, calling parents and teachers nasty names, fighting in and out of school, carrying guns — almost without conscience. They are otherwise just telling the whole world — including parents, teachers, and even the judge — "Go to hell, I'm not listening to anything you say."

Even then, they do not go into detention, which only happens, by law, as a last resort when they have refused to obey even the judge.

My typical speech to every kid is: "Johnny, you're not even in trouble yet. We are only ordering you to do what every kid in the world has to do. Go to school, obey your parent, don't smoke dope, stop beating people up, etc. If you do that, we can stop meeting like this. OK? You will only be really in trouble if you refuse to follow my orders."

All is said with a smile to the child and his free lawyer. It is truly a Catch 22 because the only viable option to detention is usually to send kids back home to the dysfunctional family that filed the charge. Everyone is frustrated.

The Herald-Leader half understands that bad things can happen when the government takes over the role of a parent. Essentially the government has failed to fix these families, but the paper's answer is — you guessed it — more government. You advocate "earlier intervention in the lives of juvenile offenders."

This all sounds good. However, government is not an endless supply of money and social workers. It is a sadly typical left-wing response.

The answer is not more intervention of underpaid and overworked social workers, even though these social workers are fabulous people. The answer is a call for men and women of faith and common sense who will mentor and love these broken families from outside the government structures.

And honestly, we need healing for these broken families that can only come from God. Government agencies are just putting Band-Aids on wounds that need healing, and only God can do that.

Which is why it is good for me at this Easter and Passover season to thank God for Ford and Virginia Philpot, my mom and dad who loved each other enough to know that marriage was sacred and having children within that sacred commitment was the highest calling of mankind.

I was born on Palm Sunday 1951, but I would not even be on this Earth if my mother had not been committed to her relationship with her alcoholic husband. Her prayers and hugs saved him in 1947. And in saving him, I became a possibility.

I rode my bike to Glendover Elementary every day. My mother was there with a hug when I got home. I was an ordinary and often-rebellious kid, but I survived because I knew, for absolute sure, that my parents loved each other and would be together forever.

Master's degrees in social work cannot replace a hugging mother and a loving father.

So, there is truth when you say we need "earlier intervention in the lives of juvenile offenders" but this Easter and Passover season is a good time to speak the obvious: That intervention should come from parents and families first, not a government which will always be short on hugs.

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