Parents or anyone who hosts an event that allows underage drinking may be fined $1,000 and up to 100 hours of community service if a proposed social hosting ordinance passes.
Introduced by Family Connection of Dawson County, a new Social Hosting ordinance places responsibility for underage drinking on the party host.
Our hope is this will reduce underage drinking and maybe lead to a community conversation as to what is normal behavior for a parent, Nancy Stites, Coordinator of Dawson County Family Connection said. Theres data that shows a parent is the number one influence in the childs decision making. If a parent is allowing underage drinking in their house, that signals their approval, and scientific data shows that is not healthy for a child.
Underage drinking affects children physically and psychologically.
"Parents think the only consequence is an accident or a fight, but that's not the only thing that could happen on down the road," Tiffany Davis, project coordinator for Be the Key said. "Research shows the brain doesn't fully develop until early -mid 20s, so if you're allowing teens to drink, that could cause significant alterations in the structure of their brain and that's huge."
Studies also show if teens start drinking before the age of fifteen, they're five times more likely to become alcohol dependent in their later years, according to Davis.
The proposed ordinance is part of a grant-funded initiative called, Be the Key.
"We received a grant in 2011 to focus on reducing underage drinking," Davis said. "Our goal is to reduce access to alcohol and binge drinking among 9-20 year olds. The grant required recipients to choose three strategies to reduce underage drinking and Family Connection chose to focus on parents because we know that they're the key.
Stites stressed the key to success is community support.
"You're not going to make any difference if you talk to one parent," she said. "It has to be an entire community in support of the idea that we don't want our kids drinking, period."
According to the proposed ordinance, if an adult knowingly allows alcohol consumption by an underage person in the home of that adult, the adults could be given a citation. A 'gathering' is defined as the assembly of five or more individuals at one location that includes as least one individual who is underage and who is not the child of the person responsible for the property.
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle supports the proposed ordinance.
"It's not that anybody's trying to put an ordinance out there that people can't have a gatherings or parties at their house with alcohol involved," Carlisle said. If you go to a house and they're having a get-together or gathering or whatever, and there's alcohol, we don't want to shut that party down. But if it's a party that has underage individuals and no adult supervision whatsoever and there's alcohol involved, then we need to have the opportunity to shut that party down."
HOW TO PREVENT UNDERAGE DRINKING
Checking on the party is key, according to Carlisle.
"If you as an adult are going to allow these teenagers to have a party on your property or in your residence, then you can take some steps to make sure to check on them every so often," Carlisle suggested. "If they're partying in your basement, walk through there every so often. Make sure nobody's drinking. Make sure nobody's brought in alcohol."
Another suggestion offered by the sheriff? Blame him.
"Blame it on us, that's fine," Carlisle said. "Tell them, 'Look I can't let you have this because the sheriff's office will be here.' Use us as a scape goat. I'm fine with it. I'll be the bad guy if that's what it takes to save some of these teenagers' lives."
If approved by the board of commissioners, the ordinance would impose fines and community service hours for individuals. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000 and not less than 24 hours of community service for the first violation. For a second offense, within one year, a fine from $500 to $1,000 and not less than 48 hours of community service could result. Subsequent violations shall be punishable by a fine of $1,000 and not less than 100 hours of community service.
Currently in the state, only Cobb County and the cities of Ackworth and Kennesaw have passed similar ordinances, according to Davis.
If the board votes to move forward with the ordindance on May 21, the next step is two public hearings.