'Becca Law' is a Success, Study Shows 

'Becca Law' is a Success, Study Shows 
Posted by FoM on September 17, 1999 at 07:55:22 PT
By Robert Gavin
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
OLYMPIA -- Each time the phone rang, Suzette Higuera experienced another moment of agony. Her daughter had run away, and in the four days the Kenmore girl was missing, each call carried the potential of disaster.
"You don't want it to be from the morgue," Higuera recalled.When her daughter finally returned, Higuera went to court to use the state's so-called Becca law to bring her daughter, Kori Mendez, under control. The move eventually landed Mendez, who abused cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, in a treatment program at the Ryther Child Center in Seattle.The Becca law, named for Rebecca Hedman, a Tacoma runaway killed on the streets of Spokane, allows parents and schools to seek court-ordered help for truants, runaways and incorrigible youths. State courts reported more than 16,000 filings in 1998.Mendez, 16, conceded that without the court's order she would not have sought help herself. Now, two weeks from completing the program, she said she is looking forward to finishing high school, a life of sobriety and a happy relationship with her mother.Without treatment, Mendez said, "I'd either be on the streets or dead."Mendez's turnaround is an example of the success the Becca law has had for teens addicted to drugs and alcohol. Since its passage four years ago, the law has helped hundreds of young persons like her, according to a study released yesterday.The study, conducted for the state Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, shows that at least half the teens forced into drug and alcohol treatment by the law stay sober, stay in school and stay out of trouble.But the study concludes that the state needs to do more to help addicted teens and their families.The state is missing a "window of opportunity" to help addicted youths because of a shortage of beds in residential treatment programs, the study says.And it needs to provide follow-up services to both children and their families to help ensure long-term recovery."Treatment can make a difference in behavior, but substantial addiction and emotional problems remain for highly troubled youth," said Richard Brandon, the study's author. "These are troubled children in troubled families. You have to treat the kids. You have to treat the parents."Brandon's study looked at a small segment of so-called Becca kids, the 200 or so required each year to undergo drug and alcohol treatment. The study, involving four years of data, found that after treatment:Fifty percent of Becca kids remained sober for at least three months after completing the program.Arrests fell from 72 percent to 30 percent.The percent running away fell from 90 percent to 22 percent.The percent staying in school jumped from 52 percent to 69 percent.Despite these indicators of success, Brandon's study shows that the state needs to do more.The state has only 155 beds in residential treatment facilities for addicted youth, with a waiting list of about 200, said Kenneth Stark, of the state Division of Alcohol and Substance abuse.Nearly 60 percent of the teens needing help have to wait a month or more, and the delay can close the "window of opportunity" to help them, the study says. In addition, many of the teens come from families where parents have their own substance abuse problems.The state needs to provide support services for the entire family, including programs to deal with child-parent conflicts and emotional disorders, the study says. Lyle Quasim, secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services, agreed, although he could not estimate how much it would cost.Mendez, the Becca kid, said she knows she has other steps to take. Higuera, her mother, believes she took the right step."She has a more positive attitude, and she's more willing to express her love for others," said Higuera. "It's difficult to go down and file charges against your kid. But (otherwise) I think she would have been just left on the street."Friday, September 17, 1999By ROBERT GAVIN SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCERCAPITOL CORRESPONDENT P-I reporter Robert Gavin can be reached at: 360-943-8311 or robertgavin
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