April 15, 2014

Summary: Those that work to provide the public a service are placed in a position of particular trust and confidence.  Certain people seek to take advantage of their public positions within an institution and exploit the access to manipulate the very people they are sworn to serve, such is the case with a former youth mental health counselor who persuaded vulnerable girls into prostitution.  The media is quick to smash a suspect of child exploitation; before you rush in to join them, think about where else our society and institutions failed these girls to get to this point.

Public workers are in place to provide services to a community, and the concept of public service is vital in all societies.  Most of them do incredible work, day in and day out, that allow us to thrive in our own society.  Unfortunately, as recently evidenced in San Jose, not all public workers use their position for good.  This story involves two men: public worker Justin Crutchfield, and his associate Demontae Toliver.  Crutchfield– a mental health counselors no less – was recently indicted federally for allegations that he persuaded highly-vulnerable teenage girls to work the streets as prostitutes in his pimping operation.  In emotionally-charged stories such as these, the focus is squarely placed on the accused.  We also care about what the accused has allegedly done, but also realize there are harder questions to ask in cases like this, and worst of all there are lives that are forever altered, none in a good way.

Let’s start with the easy part of this equation; the accused.  All but the most morally bankrupt can agree that using your job as a youth counselor – a position of public trust and confidence – to exploit vulnerable teenagers, is an atrocity.  It’s not just that these girls (15 and 17 respectively) were vulnerable; they had been staying in a group home before running away.  For the sake of context, group homes are generally where people in need of care, support, or supervision can live together.  This should underscore just how vulnerable these girls were when they ran away and ended up in Crutchfield’s office.  To spend any more time on the accused would be analyzing the symptom instead of the disease, so let’s focus on the larger issues at stake in this problem: the institution and the children.

A common theme we write about is the importance of background checks.  In the private sector, the impetus is to hire people based on their specialized skills as opposed to their merits as a person.  While no organization would choose an employee that clearly stands out as a risk to society or their company, it’s fair to assume that job skills outweigh character in many places.  With respects to the Santa Clara Valley Mental Health Department, these observations are easier to make in hindsight.  All pleasantries aside now, how do we move forward as a society to protect our children?  Background checks are a start, but alone it’s not enough.  Performing social media checks fills in gaps and paints a picture of a person’s character, but even that’s not a fail-safe plan.

Maybe it’s time to change the paradigm in the public sector.  Just maybe, if the public sector placed more emphasis on the quality of character into their job requirements, people like Crutchfield could have been identified sooner – perhaps before they even began working around our children.  There are pockets of people in the private sector (especially in the tech world) who place a premium on the quality of character, and have managed to achieve success.  This is but one example, but if one company can do it, couldn’t another?  Couldn’t a public service do the same thing in this situation?  We don’t advocate that the public should hire a bunch of squeaky-clean choir boys with no actual talent in their job; we advocate that those with the best balance of character and skill serve our public.

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the severity of the crime and playing the subsequent blame game associated with placing guys like Crutchfield in harm’s way; not to say that attributing credit and blame in a case isn’t important, because it is.  The most important part is the mental well-being and health of these two girls.  These girls were troubled even before they fatefully met with Crutchfield, we can only imagine what their outlook might be now.  These girls were failed long ago in this process; where were their parents to provide the love and care they desperately needed?  Every situation is different, but we ascribe to a few core concepts of parenting:

–         We made the choice to create life; it is our civil duty to be responsible for their development, safety, and well-being

–         It’s our job to provide unconditional love and support for our children

–         It’s our responsibility to exhaust all resources necessary to maintain the family

We all have faults, and nobody will be a perfect parent.  We can, however, be the best parents we can be.  If you gave your best effort as a parent, would you still lose custody of your child(ren)?  We as parents owe our children better in situation like these.  These girls had a whole life to look ahead to, and they still do…just now they must do so forever as a victim, not knowing what true love, trust or compassion is.  That’s a sad reality.


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