Real Kids, With Real Lives
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Politics and Activism

Real Kids, With Real Lives

The kids in foster care and the juvenile detention system aren't just statistics, names, or faces.

Real Kids, With Real Lives
Freeimages9 on Pixabay

Almost a month ago, I interviewed my friend Rebecca about her work in a residential treatment facility, and I didn't have space to write about everything we discussed.

I asked her then about her perspective on "the system": the levels of juvenile detention, from high-security facilities to foster care homes.

"What is state custody doing well? What are they not doing well?"

Becca shook her head. "You don't last very long if you care, and unfortunately there were people in the system who really should not have been working with the kids. They were burned out, and they couldn't care anymore. It's hard too when the people making decisions on a judicial and legislative level have no categories for what the kids experience."

"They're real kids, with real lives."

"But," she continued, "even though the system is really flawed, it is the only option some of these kids have. Otherwise, they might stay on the streets and get involved in gangs, or have to live in abusive situations."

"I've become passionate about good people being involved."

My friend Matthew wrote about the staggering numbers of kids in foster care: 250,000 of them in "non-relative foster family homes." That number overwhelms me. It represents so many situations where families broke apart, even if temporarily.

I'm writing about this because I have a lot of unanswered questions. I've met dozens of kids through my work in our local detention center, and after awhile I started wondering why I saw the same kids coming back two, three, four or five times.

The facility is a transition point: the kids wait there for their court hearing or trial. The court decides whether they go home (or live with a relative), to a foster home, to substance abuse rehab, to the juvenile prison near Topeka, or to a residential treatment facility. (Those are the options the kids and I have talked about. There may be more I don't know.)

Seeing the kids' hurt, even though they tried to hide it, finally took its toll. I kept wondering if running the kids through this system, this shuffling from place to place, really was redemptive. How could they find somewhere to belong, and someone who would be able to see past their defenses and care?

I probably shouldn't end this way, but I have far more questions than answers.

Are foster families and parents trained effectively? Are they being supported?

Are employees within the juvenile detention system supported and trained well?

How quickly should a child or teenager be removed from their home situation?

Are we criminalizing substance abuse, when a real solution may be more complex than a jail sentence?

How can we help teenagers genuinely heal, change, and make restitution after committing a crime, like violence or theft?

If I sound critical, I'm sorry. I truly respect many of the staff I've met at the detention facility--people in "the system." If I sound like I'm putting no responsibility on the teens, please understand--I know they have a choice.

I just know that I would have a very hard time growing in that system, and I've been given far more discipline, care, and support than almost all of them have.

What will it take to care for these kids, who are vulnerable, gifted, broken, and yet so guarded about letting anyone close to them?

I'm not big enough to offer an answer for the system, although it needs work. I agree with Becca, though: it is a huge opportunity for good people to become involved.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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