In my old work days as a juvenile probation officer, it was small victories that kept me and my co-workers going. The strengths-based model we worked from had us always assessing where the strengths in the “biopsychosocial environment” were, while at the same time acknowledging where the barriers were. Our jobs were to enhance the strengths and neutralize the barriers. As you can imagine, it took a lot of creativity in the job.
After awhile, I got good at recognizing the strengths and identifying the barriers. The best way to do it is with a 4-letter word: time. Every child (and the child’s family) that was assigned to me came with a paper file (now a lot of it is electronic file storage) of varying thicknesses. A paper-thin folder would suggest “easy case” and a thick folder would suggest “tough case.”
I went to one of our annual association trainings and listened to a speaker who used a term I never forgot: forklift file. This gentleman made me think outside of the box. He said that kids with forklift files are the ones who haven’t come across the right worker who is willing to take the time to “get” them and the world that they live in. From then on, I didn’t look at the forklift file kids with dread or “black hole of work” anymore but as a personal challenge to “get” them.
Back to the small victories. I’m not going to dance around the reality that MANY P.O.s interact with kids (and their families) ALL WRONG. They have been watching too many TV shows about badass cops and tough guys that have to “tame” the kids. By and large, these kids have been ABUSED, NEGLECTED, and have watched the same happen to their parents and siblings, neighbors, buddies since infancy. Tough guy is old school to them. IT DOESN’T WORK. What does work is kindness and respect. Yes, they have broken the law. Yes, sometimes the crimes are heinous. Yes, they are still human beings and deserving of respect and kindness. This goes for the juvenile and their sometimes awful parents.
Hello!? Parenting is a learned behavior. When the last 4 generations were steeped in poverty, chaos, drug abuse, criminal neglect, organized crime, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, etc. just where are the parents supposed to learn it? What the “old school” P.O.s don’t understand is that they are modeling parental behavior to both the child and to the parents. By being Badass Billy to them, what are they teaching? Do they think you can intimidate the kids or the parents into respecting and obeying you them that way?
Being kind and respectful does not mean being a pushover. It means in that parental role to set limits and to stand by the limits. It’s just so much easier to have parents and juveniles follow the guidelines when you have a real connection with them.
It also means making sure that the parents and the juveniles understand that there are repercussions to their actions. Did I like to write up Probation Violations on “my” kids? Hell no. Number one it means a lot of paperwork and going back into the courtroom. Did it mean I let them slide because I didn’t want to do the work? Hell no. It also meant that the kids and their parents were fully aware of why they left me no choice but to write them up. It was also clear to them that their going back into court took their consequences out of my hands.
Was my job an easy one? No. It was one of the hardest jobs in the world to do. Do I miss it? I miss everything I have described in this essay. What I don’t miss is the horrible criminal justice system and its inadequacy in making any serious impact; due in large part to the effed-up way our society is designed, where a small percentage of the population owns and controls everything and the rest of us fight over the crumbs. I don’t miss that part at all.
Oh yes, I don’t want to end this on a negative note. Plus I remembered I wanted to include the Mindlovemisery Menageries “excitement” aspect, which goes well with the other two prompts. When I worked, those small victories gave all of the P.O.s excitement; like when our hard work at modeling kindness and respect “paid off.” If I saw one of the kids being kind to another where before they were beating everyone up, it made me ecstatic. If I saw a kid being respectful to adults when before they were oppositional and defiant, I was delighted. When a juvenile that had been committing assaultive crimes for a year straight went 6 months with no violence, it gave me a thrill.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my career as a juvenile P.O.!
Fandango’s FOWC is repercussions and the Word of the Day Challenge is kindness.
Michael is the host of Mindlovemisery Menagerie’s Tale Weaver. Michael says:
This week consider the word EXCITEMENT. What does it mean to you?