BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) — Taking over the steps of the Massachusetts State House Wednesday, child advocates said troubled kids should be helped, not treated like criminals.
They’re supporting a bill that would reform the Children in Need of Services system, also known as CHINS, so that troubled kids are sent to counselors rather than court.
In the past year, advocates say more than 6,000 kids have entered the juvenile justice system because of CHINS.
“I actually was a CHINS kid myself,” said Delia Varga, the executive director of Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement. “I was a straight A student. I was on the honor role, but some things shifted at home, I didn’t know how to deal with those.”
Varga was twelve when she started skipping school. She was put on CHINS, sent to a probation worker and eventually saw a judge in court.
“Sitting in a court house feeling like I was a criminal at such an early age. I was scared. I was a scared little girl,” said Varga. “Nobody asked me why, what’s going on with you.”
That’s why Varga joined advocates to support Senate bill 1963 which would steer runaways or kids who are missing school toward counselors rather than probation workers. The bill has passed the Senate, but hasn’t been debated in the House of Representatives.
“This is extremely important and I’m sure we will be addressing it in the near future,” said Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow).
Lawmakers say CHINS reform won’t be debated in the House until they figure out how much it will cost and whether the state can afford it.
“Speaking to the Speaker’s office …they’re looking at those dollar figures as we speak and they just don’t want to throw something out there that we can’t afford,” said Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield).
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