With graduation approaching, the McHenry County Underage Drinking Task Force would like to remind the community about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking.
According to statistics presented at the McHenry County Mayor’s Caucus, youth are illustrating a dramatic increase in periodic alcohol consumption between sixth and twelfth grades (i.e. almost 50 percent of 6- through 12-graders have drank alcohol in the last month).
In September 2010, McHenry County Chairman Ken Koehler recognized the need to address the continued trend of underage drinking and to educate parents and the community of the dangers of underage drinking by convening a meeting of stakeholders that address this topic.
The stakeholders included social service agencies, school officials, law enforcement officers from various local governments including those from the McHenry Sheriff’s Office, parents, the State’s Attorneys office, the McHenry County Probation Office, the Mental Health Board, and other groups. This became the first meeting of the McHenry County Underage Drinking Task Force.
The Task Force then formed two subcommittees. These subcommittees include the Education Committee which provides information on various programs being implemented around the County and the Law Committee which is looking at trends and underage drinking tickets throughout the County as well as and communication between municipalities and social host laws.
To date, the Task Force has met with the Mayor’s Caucus to illustrate how underage drinking poses a significant risk to County residents and how current practices regarding curbing underage drinking are inadequate and lack consistency across the County. The mayors were very receptive and expressed interest in continuing the dialog.
The Task Force is presently involved in local projects such as Project Sticker Shock (which was completed countywide on April 26), Party Watch and Teen Tip Hot Line (1-800-762-7867).
At the state level, there is a law that conveys liability for providing alcohol to underage youth. To paraphrase, it states in part “if the impaired youth causes death, injury or property destruction as a result of the impairment, the person of at least 18 who provided the alcohol could receive a Class 4 felony, as well as be liable for economic costs, non-economic costs, attorney’s fees, court fees and punitive damages.”
It should be stressed that the host of the party can be held accountable regardless of who provided the alcohol. Since young people report their heaviest drinking takes place during large parties with their peers, the social host laws have become an effective way to enforce underage drinking.
Since graduation is where alcohol consumption commonly takes place, the Underage Drinking Task Force has compiled a list of tips for parents when hosting these gatherings:
- Know the law. It is illegal to give or sell any alcoholic beverages to a person under age 21.
- It is also illegal for you to allow an underage person (including those who are not your children) to consume alcohol in your home or on your property—even if you did not provide the alcohol. Be aware!
- An adult or parent who serves alcohol to persons under age 21 can be held responsible for injuries or damages caused by the minor’s intoxication.
- Be visible and present to supervise. Invite parents of your child’s friends to help chaperone.
- Monitor the inside and outside of your house, especially the garage, windowsills, bedrooms and perimeter of your property.
- Set up ground rules before the party:
- Agree on the guest list and send out invitations. This helps curtail unwanted guests.
- Only those invited will be allowed to attend.
- All guests enter from one entrance.
- Notify the police about the party date and time.
- Notify neighbors of the party.
- Coats and bags will be “checked in.”
- The party will be alcohol and drug free. (Do NOT assume your child knows this.) Any guest who brings alcohol or other drugs, arrives under the influence, drinks alcohol or uses other drugs, or becomes impaired/ill at the party will be asked to leave, and their parents will be called so they can get home safely.
Ultimately, parents continue to play a crucial in a child’s life for the decisions they will make. Clear expectations and rules will help keep our teens safe. Know the laws and make decisions early.
For those wanting to get involved in the McHenry County Underage Drinking Task Force, contact Task Force Co-Chair Connee Meschini (School District 200) at 815-206-2840 or Task Force Co-Chair Chris Gleason (Family Service & Community Mental Health Center for McHenry County) at 815-669-2441.
— Adam Lehmann, Asst. to the County Administrator