By Andrea Waldron, Accountant/Office Manager, Erie County
Leadership Erie County Class of 2009
This community desperately needs a facility where children can go to learn life skills, interact with others in a positive way, and discover what it is to grow into responsible adults. I came to this decision after I visited the Erie County Juvenile Justice Center.
The youth at the facility range in age from 12 to 17 years. Most of these youth become well adapted to the detention home environment because they return often. Most have little or no structure and receive very little supervision while at home; therefore, they become used to being in the detention center. Some of them have parents who lead lives of crime, thus detention and delinquency seem normal to these young adults. Others prefer to be at the detention center for some sense of safety and stability.
The parents and custodians should take part of the blame. Many of these children come from single parent homes where the parent finds it is difficult to supervise a child 24 hours a day. Law enforcement personnel are doing their jobs by pressing charges against these children for things like curfew violations. If they allowed these young people to run the streets, worse crimes would be committed.
I find it troubling that many of these children are repeatedly being placed in the detention center for multiple days for simply not cleaning their rooms or cussing at a teacher. I remember when I was young either the parents took care of the discipline or even the school did, depending on the matter. Maybe we need to consider going back to this as opposed to having the court system deal with every little matter. Some of the children in the facility have committed horrible crimes and do need to be prosecuted with the hope to rehabilitate them. I am referring to the unruly children who end up at the facility many times because the parents don't know how to deal with them.
These children need people to look up to and a place where they have structure. They need a place where they can learn how to grow up and be respectable young men and women. The mentor program does just that. While in detention, men and women volunteer to work with these incarcerated youth. Mentors teach these troubled children living skills and the important things they need to be healthy respectable adults. This program is a wonderful tool to help these kids. It also gives the kids something to look forward to while they are incarcerated. They look forward to these volunteers who take an interest in them. No matter what their crimes are, they seem to be willing to participate in the mentor program. This proves, given the right guidance and environment, any of these children are capable of being an asset to society; tragically, most of them aren't given the right environment outside of the facility to have these opportunities.
This community needs a facility where all youth from the area can go. There are currently some facilities available, but a lot of people can't afford them. There are also some great programs in place, but they are limited to certain races or church groups. Ideally, it would be wonderful to have a facility that is open to all children under 18 years old. It needs to be free or based on income and sponsored by our community. This would help the single parents who can't always be around to know what their children are doing. If we come together as a community to figure out how to finance such a facility, I feel we would solve a lot of the youth problems in our area. I still feel, however, that the most important step must be taken at home before we have to count on strangers to raise our children. Remember: An investment in our youth is an investment in our future.