The juvenile justice system may be a rough time for young folks. I went to a group home, now known as short term residence therapeutic placement (S.T.R.T.P.). I was there from when I was 14 to 16. My biological mother didn’t do her parenting classes so I could go back home, and my biological father wasn’t in the picture. The class that my mom had to complete required her to attend a class once a month for two hours for six months. She couldn’t do that, so my six-month placement turned into two years, which wasn’t normal. The good thing that happened to me during that time was that I wasn’t alone. My former probation officer, who was assigned to me when I was in juvenile hall at 14, was there supporting me every step of the way. I also got to see my maternal grandfather every weekend. I was so happy!
Once two years hit, the executive director of the facility told me I could go to a foster home if I wanted until I turned 18, or I could stay at the group home until I was 18. Initially, I was going to stay at that group home because I had a really bad experience with foster care when I was younger. When I was 3, my former foster mother physically burnt me with a curling iron. Because of that, I was traumatized from foster care. When my biological mother came to visit me and my biological brother, she saw the physical burn marks on my face and arms and threatened to sue the agency if they didn’t release me or my brother. The very next day, my brother and I were released. The foster mother quit, even though that lady didn’t get her license revoked.
Foster care, overall, has never been easy for me. Dealing with trauma, depression and anxiety wasn’t fun. I went to a lot of therapy and had to start taking medication. One of my medications made me so lethargic that all I wanted to do all day was just sleep my days away. But, to my later set of foster parents, that was normal. They saw nothing wrong with me sleeping all day. At my final foster home, I stopped making friends and started isolating myself from my peers because I felt like I was going to move somewhere else again.
My probation officer, once again, was there listening to me even when I told her about my previous experiences in foster care. When I told her how I didn’t want to go because I was traumatized, she understood my worries and never gave up on me or made me feel bad. She was very caring and always listened to me. She suggested doing overnight visits with these potential foster parents, also newly known as resource families. I agreed to doing the overnight weekend visits for about two to three weekends and ended up liking the foster parents so much. They are Portuguese like me. I had someone who I could culturally relate to. My foster parents also ended up baptizing me in the Catholic church and included me and my other foster siblings on family trips. I finally felt like I belonged to a family. It felt great!
I am thankful that my probation officer didn’t give up on me in finding a loving family for me. She showed up to my high school graduation. She even wants me to attend conferences and panels on behalf of the county all the time. This goes to show that the juvenile justice system and child welfare system are relatively connected. For example, for me, if my biological mother would have completed her parenting classes, I could have gone back “home” instead of going to the foster care system. Even while in foster care, I still maintained contact with my probation officer. I was still on probation in foster care. I had a curfew and everything. If I wanted to go out of the county with my foster parents or biological parents, I had to get permission from my probation officer and the county. I had to attend juvenile court every six months while I was in foster care. On top of that, I had a social worker as well. Once I graduated high school, I got my record sealed that following Monday because I followed the terms of my probation agreement. So, if anyone, to this day, tries to find my juvenile record, it doesn’t exist.
My former probation officer will always be my hero and my savior. She believes in me even when it felt like no one believed in me. I believe because of people like her, I was able to have a great future. Not every juvenile justice youth will reunify with their biological families. Some young people will transition to foster care because of many different reasons. This will impact a youth more because now, the youth is in a whole brand new system. The influence of role models will impact a foster youth in great ways. If there is a person who is there for that youth, they will most likely strive and believe in themselves more, creating more vibrancy in youth. Foster youth and juvenile justice youth get excluded sometimes, which makes them feel like a burden and can lead to them shutting people out of their lives. Having positive role models for youth will create the next generations of successful adults who will go to school/work and be productive individuals of society. Mentorships and programs supporting young people should be established so generational trauma stops with them!