Youths in trouble — what happens next?
After reading an article in late October about the behavior of some teens before and after the Glenwood/Rifle football game, you may have wondered, “What happens now?” Since it involved a large number of local students, this particular situation can help bring some clarity to what happens when young people find themselves entering the court system.
Historically, our valley has taken very good care of our youth, and this situation is resulting in that same care. From the school administration, coaches, parents and YouthZone, young people in our valley are fortunate to have caring adults to provide support and guidance.
From the moment youth show up in court, after they are ticketed, YouthZone is there. We are in the courtroom, reassuring parents, scheduling appointments and giving out our cards. All youth will appear before the judge and, from there, nearly all will be referred to YouthZone.
The reason the judge refers them to us is that we have the time and space to sit with each youth and his or her parents and hear from them. We spend time listening and asking questions to find out what they want and need, while also listening to their parents.
Our view comes from a place of empathy and accountability. We understand that this is a difficult and disappointing place for parents, and we also understand that the youth feel the same way very often. Our case managers and youth advocates will determine what really is going on in these youth’s lives? What are their needs? How can we help them understand the harm they caused, to the school, their parents and families, and even to themselves?
After we meet with each youth, we support that person in writing a contract for which the young person will be responsible.
The contracts are based on their strengths and, at the same time, repair the harm done so the youths can move forward with the support and help they and their family need. A contract could include restorative justice, teen discussion groups, substance abuse groups, counseling and/or community service. Contracts are given back to the judge to approve, and the youths then meet regularly with their support people at YouthZone.
The contract can change if the youth’s circumstances change – with the intention always to have the youth take responsibility for their actions, understand how they can make things right, and understand that they are good people who made a mistake.
As one young person put it, “I learned that if you mess up you can repair it. If it was something at school, it still affects other things such as the community, your parents and the victim.” Or another, “I have learned that making mistakes is a part of life but that it doesn’t define you as a person.” And “there was someone I could talk about my problems with.”
YouthZone typically works with each youth between three to six months. And, we provide resources to assist parents, including helping them establish more engaging communication with their child or helping them recognize when their child may be struggling. In the end, it is our hope that the youth we work with have learned a little about themselves, that they have felt supported and that they have been held accountable.
It is a privilege to live in a community that cares enough to make sure our youth get the help they need and that we teach responsibility. And yes, it truly does take a village. If you or someone you know would like to have support for your family please call YouthZone at 945-9300.
Lori Mueller is executive director of YouthZone.
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