Every young person has a unique situation. People working in Ontario’s youth justice system including probation officers consider both a youth’s risk factors and strengths when supporting them.
Here are stories from Ontario youth justice probation officers about youth who successfully returned to the community.
By a youth probation officer in Ontario
“A youth who had a 21-month sentence for a very serious charge came to our attention. He was struggling with the loss of his mother, drug use and suicidal thoughts.
The youth didn’t have any support in the community. He was disengaged, fatalistic and without a positive adult role model.
As a probation officer, I always try to understand a youth’s strengths. I know that building on these strengths can help the youth resist committing more crimes.
So, I soon realized that this young man loves music and has musical talent. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to develop it. He was dealing with his sick mom and coping with the stress of pending criminal charges.
A team of people at the probation office helped this youth reconnect with music. After a while, not only did he play a show for a public audience, he has also applied to a music program.
He has also had an extremely successful experience with other community supports referred by the probation office. He started exploring and improving the behaviours that led him to commit crime.
For the first time, this young man volunteered. Working with our probation office, he designed, organized and ran a local food drive. In a follow-up survey he said that the volunteer work was “meaningful”.
During our last reporting session to the probation office, this youth played his audition piece for his post-secondary application. For the first time in a long time, he said he was happy. His attitude and view on life is new, restored, and refreshed with a purpose and a plan.”
By a youth probation officer in Ontario
“When I met this young person he was 12 years old and not in school. He was doing drugs and drinking alcohol daily since he was eight. He didn’t have a parent or teacher who took the time to deal with his issues. He was repeatedly breaking the law and becoming more stuck in a life of bad choices.
To change, he had to “re-invent” himself. It meant giving up everyone who accepted him and everything he looked forward to – his “street family”. He had to un-learn everything he thought was “normal”. This young man had to either become a full-fledged, initiated gang-member or choose a more difficult path, leaving his gang family and feeling isolated again.
Heartache from a broken home and not many adults to rely on, he had turned to committing crimes as a call for help.
We in the youth justice system first try to understand what a youth needs to help him stay out of trouble. We look at each youth’s risks and strengths. If we can deal with these, it’s less likely the youth will commit another crime and the community will be safer.
Working with this youth, we realized he has always been passionate about school. But he was unable to connect with teachers who were genuinely interested in him or his situation at home. He had been expelled.
So, we encouraged him to read and ask questions. He became more confident and engaged. After participating in the expulsion program and being back in a regular school, he started seeing his true potential. He realized his “big picture” included going to college or university, having a career and giving back to the community.
He now works with teachers, directors, his fellow students and the school administration to give back. This youth has been invited to sit on a council with teachers, parents and the administrative team. He provides ideas about improving the safety and security of the school and the community. He acts as the voice of his school and speaks passionately about real-life situations that young people today are forced to deal with.
This young man continues to be engaged with all of his extra-curricular achievements. Now in grade 11, he has kept a 90 per cent overall academic average since returning to a regular school. He hopes to graduate high school and continue on to college or university.”