Some years ago I was a teenage girl stuck in a cycle of recidivism and angry at the world for the response I received by the forces in place to protect at risk children and youth.
In 2006 it seemed that the normal response in California was to lock troubled youth away in juvenile detention centers – stripping them of material possessions and their identity, to be known only as files.
My experiences in juvenile court were as follows: my public defender meets me to advise that I stay quite and not speak in the courtroom, I go in and sit silently as my fate is decided by a judge after watching a public defender and prosecutor go at it, and then I’m scheduled to come back some months later to do it over again.
In my opinion members of the juvenile justice system seemed to have no interest in knowing a youth outside of a criminal perspective. Positive youth justice, trauma- informed care, evidence based practices – all terms and models of care that seemed non-existent at the time-or to those that had my fate in their hands. After all, if the system knew about such nuances in youth behavior, such as deep traumas that manifest in maladaptive behaviors, they wouldn’t have sent a 13- year-old to such a place were I witnessed corruption, experienced belittlement, and learned behaviors that I was not made privy to before entering.
Yes society seemed like a dark place at that time, until Crittenton Services for Children and Families (Crittenton) shined a light on my image of it. With their caring employees and rehabilitation focused practices Crittenton planted the seeds for my skills in self-advocacy, and my desire to take hold of my life and change it through education. Education saved me, and by sparking my interest in education Crittenton did as well.
Since my time at Crittenton my life has been full of struggle as well as accomplishments. I have come in contact with many organizations and bureaucracies on my journey to becoming a successful member of my community – despite the odds I have become a succeeding Hispanic American, former foster youth, former probation youth, TANF recipient, survivor of child sexual abuse, working single mother, and a full-time student at the University of Southern California.
This year I received the Association of Community Human Service Agencies (ACHSA) Inspiration Award, and though I recognize that I owe my accomplishments to the many organizations that were there to fill an important gap in my journey, I also recognize that it takes someone with great tenacity to create such a patchwork of support.
It can be very difficult and overwhelming to maintain such a web of support. But it’s even more difficult for a current or former system-involved youth to reach self-sufficiency when the web trickles down to a few strings by the age of 24.
It has been well documented that today many young people in general are becoming independent at later ages. In contrast, many youth aging out of the system fall through the cracks because of caps on services due to age criteria. I was not the only awardee this year, there were five of us, and among us was a man who was in his 40’s. It was so great that ACHSA recognized a life span of accomplishments through their awardees. And it also goes to show that sometimes it takes people longer to recover or step out of a cycle of self-destruction.
With this in mind, it may be beneficial and more effective to provide system involved youth services beyond the current cut off age of 24 – to mimic the current trend of self-sufficiency within today’s millennial generation.
Lucero Noyola serves as the Communications and Research Fellow for Crittenton Services for Children and Families of Southern California (CSCF). In this role she assists with agency communications efforts relating to Crittenton’s child welfare advocacy, positive youth justice initiatives, adverse childhood experiences research and other Crittenton historical archive projects relating to the agency’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration. Ms. Noyola has also been given the role of a Crittenton community ambassador during the 2015-2016 year in order to help acknowledge Crittenton’s years of dedicated service to the most vulnerable children, youth, and families of Southern California. As a former Crittenton client in Crittenton’s Residential Treatment Services program she is appreciative of the agency for empowering her to discover her own strengths and encouraging her to follow her dreams. She knows all too well the challenges America’s foster care and juvenile justice youth face as they transition out of system-involvement, and hopes to one day help system-involved youth by pursuing a career in social services and research. She is currently a graduating senior at the University of Southern California (USC) double-majoring in Psychology and Sociology, and has recently helped launch the Trojan Guardian Scholars Program where she also helps mentor current and former system-involved youth enrolled as college students at the university.