One Parent's Experience with the Juvenile Justice System

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story. My oldest son became involved in the juvenile justice system in April of 2009, and completed his six-month probation period in November 2009. It wasn’t the first public system he’d been involved in, but I think as a mother…it was the most heart-wrenching. Many a night I had sent prayers up for him, fearing one day he might become involved in the justice system. After all, when you got right down to it, I really had no control over my child’s actions or his decision-making in my absence.
His involvement caused a myriad of emotions within me and with the addition of another system seemingly holding the entire family hostage. I wanted to distance myself, teach him a lesson, give him tough love, send him to detention -- anything but bring him home. Overwhelmed with a pending divorce and the custody issues of a younger sibling, I didn’t need an additional challenge with yet another system.

I made it through my son’s six-month probation period hotter than a pot of gumbo on a scorching New Orleans’ summer day! Various tests and assessments were administered, in-home family preservation counseling was provided, and in the meantime, I had to rework my job schedule to meet the required appointments, while trying to start a business and deal with his passive-aggressive attitude…Whew! I needed a long getaway!
Because I’m a visual learner, the verbal explanations handed down by the judge were somewhat cloudy. The only thing my brain mass seemed to attach itself to were the words of the judge, stating that my son and I both were on probation!
I’m telling you, anything spoken thereafter in the courtroom was just noise to me. I kept repeating and mumbling to myself, “Me -- on probation!” over and over again. With that said, of course, I wanted to ask if they had an extra cot for him during the next six months! I later found out that I did hear correctly, and we both were on probation! What that meant was if I was non-compliant to the orders of the court, I could be charged a fine, serve time or both. And yet, I hadn’t done anything other than raise my son with the guidance and values I had.
My experience as a parent of a child involved in the system was a stressful one that could have been prevented. Although the staff at the Juvenile Justice Department was pleasant to deal with, there still was a void of information. My questions were answered, but I still felt outnumbered and inadequately informed of the on-going processes. The system seemed to be driven more towards the child, with nothing for the parent. My son’s probation officer did the best he could to address my concerns, and I sensed he was strictly there for my son, yet I needed more. I needed a parent who had traveled this road before me, who could guide and hopefully advise me of the journey ahead.
Because of my experiences, my future goal is to equip parents with information, resources and support as they go through their individual journey when a child enters the juvenile justice system. Great Expectations, a nonprofit organization I started to assist parents to navigate public systems like juvenile justice, is working on a partnership with the Reclaiming Futures initiative here in my county.
I’m sure there are many other parents out there who would entertain the opportunity to share their experiences and advice with others. Let’s use this as a tool to dialogue, communicate and become the voices of parents of this particular population.
I’m looking forward to posting often through the Reclaiming Futures blog. I’m open to hearing about your own personal experiences, so feel free to leave comments or email me.
One thing to consider as a potential topic: how do you think the juvenile justice system could be more parent-friendly when our youth get involved in that systemic maze?

[An information gap clearly exists between families, teens and the juvenile justice system, but here's a post with some suggestions for closing it. -Ed.]

Updated: March 21 2018