In Michigan, a jury grabs national headlines by convicting two parents for failing to control their teenage son.
In Salt Lake City, prosecutors quietly prepare to file similar charges next week against a single mother who has lost control of her 13-year-old son. The charges are the first filed under the city's parental responsibility ordinance adopted last September.The teenager in question is a gang member who has been referred to juvenile court 30 times for offenses that include arson, auto theft, robbery, burglary, possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed weapon, said Ken Connaughton, spokesman for Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.
The youth has been referred to juvenile court three times since the new ordinance became effective eight months ago.
Under the new law, the parents of a child referred to juvenile court three times within two years must either obtain counseling with the child or face the Class B misdemeanor charge for failing to supervise a minor.
The boy's mother has refused to respond to several letters the city has sent her regarding her son, Connaughton said. Charges may be filed next week.
The penalty for the violation ranges from fines to community service and possibly jail.
On the juvenile's fourth offense, the parents must again agree to counseling or perform 100 hours of community service.
City Council member Stuart Reid proposed the ordinance and appeared on the Montel Williams show to defend it.
"I'm saddened to learn that this mother won't respond to the invitation to be responsible for her son," he said. "I think that's unfortunate. But I don't think the community should suffer the consequences of his behavior and have her not be responsible in any way. . . . Something is wrong with those who feel the parents shouldn't be held responsible for the child's behavior, but expect the community to be responsible."
Council member Tom Godfrey is the only sitting council member who voted against the ordinance last September. He said Friday he is pleased the city is filing charges on this case.
"I feel good about this one. I've heard about this mother and she apparently couldn't care less," he said. "I'm not opposed to making parents responsible for their children. I opposed the ordinance because I believe you can't suddenly expect parents to become good parents and kids to go on the straight and narrow."
By the time the situation has gone far enough for the city to charge parents, the law will probably have little impact, he said. "I feel sorry for this kid. The parent obviously hasn't been responsible." But the city can't make her responsible and even if it could, "the kid won't listen to her because she's let it slide this far," Godfrey said.
When a child is referred to court the first time, the city sends a letter to the parents in both English and Spanish. The letter advises them of the new ordinance and offers the city's help. "Raising children is not easy. We would like to assist you and your family if possible," it says, explaining that counseling is available for little or no charge.
The city sends additional letters for the second and third offense.
As of March, the city had sent out approximately 900 letters. After getting the letters, 55 families called for counseling, Salt Lake City Police Chief Ruben Ortega reported to Reid.
Twenty families are in counseling, using Odyssey House, Positive Results, Asian Association, Tough Love, school counseling and the LEAP program. "The remainder have asked about counseling, but it is unknown if they will attend any of these counseling programs," Ortega wrote.
After the first batch of letters went out, the city also got complaints. "A few of the parents called in after receiving the letter indicating they were offended by the tone of the letter," Ortega wrote. The first letter emphasized legal notification of the law, rather than a desire to help the family, he wrote. The city softened the letter and began offering help after getting the complaints.
Reid believes the ordinance and free counseling is prompting single parents, in particular, to get the help and training they need to raise teenagers.
Two parents in St. Clair Shores, Mich., were convicted of failing to control their 16-year-old son in violation of a similar city ordinance. Anthony and Susan Provenzino were on trial for three days before being convicted, each fined $100 and ordered to pay $1,000 in court costs.
The parents are also paying $155 a day for their son's housing in a juvenile detention facility.