Who is responsible? You adopt a three-year-old child. From age three to eleven, your son grows up a well-adjusted boy and is a positive member of your family. When he is eleven, twins are added to your family constellation.
As a parent, you know the transition is going to be complicated for your adoptive son. However, you never anticipated what a nightmare it would become. You love your adoptive son unconditionally as you do your natural children. As parents, you work hard to show no favoritism. The newborns demand more attention because they are newborns.
RJ starts to act out. His behavior becomes violent and out of control. He is literally unmanageable. After comprehensive testing, it is decided that he should be placed in a residential setting. This breaks his parents' hearts, but they feel they have no other choice. RJ did not want to live at home, but he also did not want to live in a group home setting either. He made everyone's life a living hell. He was dismissed from one group home after another due to his oppositional defiance.
By the age of thirteen, he had burnt almost all of his bridges. He was arrested for shoplifting and a PINS petition was filed against him. He was warned that if he continued his out of control behavior, he would be placed in a non-secure detention setting.
He was placed in another non-secure group home setting and he became progressively more difficult. He broke curfew and had on-going conflicts where he threatened the staff. He was dismissed from the setting and was placed in non-secure detention in Nassau County.
After a few weeks, this young man appeared in Family Court for a disposition hearing. The concern for all involved was what to do with a sixteen-year-old boy who is non-compliant. He is not a criminal, but is difficult. He has not lived at home since the age of eleven. His probation for shoplifting was about to end.
So, where does he go? What do you do with him? Who is responsible? The system attempted to advocate on his behalf. However, there are not many resources available for a sixteen year old who is literally on his own. He has had little or no contact with his parents. He made it clear to his law guardian that he never wants to return home.
In New York State, there are few to no resources for a young man his age. RJ went before his Family Court judge. His probation was terminated. His law guardian indicated that that RJ was accepted into and waitlisted for a community residence program. The community residence made it clear that there was no bed presently available and that it would be at least a month before one might be available.
The judge discharged RJ and basically cut him loose. RJ's law guardian failed to press the issue of where this sixteen year old would go while waiting for placement in the community residence. RJ's parents claim no knowledge of what is being considered for him. They were shocked to hear that he was discharged to nowhere.
Someone called CPS. They were aggressive in wanting to interview the boy, but ultimately did nothing. That night, frightened and overwhelmed, RJ went to an adult homeless shelter. When the staff there inquired as to what they should do, everyone in the system passed the buck. No one had an intelligent response. This innocent sixteen year old became another casualty of the system.
A number of professionals outside the system attempted to advocate for RJ, but their voices fell on deaf ears. No one was willing to take responsibility for this sixteen year old. He still has no place formally to live.
RJ's story is blatantly disturbing. Unfortunately, every day there are young men and women under the age of eighteen who for a wide range of reasons are homeless. They seek support services to try to get their lives back on track, but there are few to no resources to be found. So, they live here and there and do whatever they can to survive.
The sixteen to twenty year olds have become the invisible and the voiceless among us. They have some rights, but are denied other rights. They have access to some services, but are denied other services. The most disturbing issue is that no one wants to take responsibility for them.
We live in a state that allows sixteen year olds to leave home, sign out of school and live on their own. Many of these sixteen year olds are not capable of living on their own. They have to leave home because of violence and abuse. Where do they go? What do they do?
Realistically, what sixteen year old is capable of supporting him or her self with food, clothing and shelter? If a sixteen year old wants to continue his or her high school education, how does he or she do that without a parent or guardian? Who wants to rent a legal apartment to a sixteen year old?
Before many of these teenagers even start to manage, they are set up for failure by a system that does not really value its' youth.
Many of the programs that are in place to help troubled youth are forced to warehouse teenagers rather than empower them to wellness and self-reliance.
Too many contracted programs for teenagers in need are overcrowded, understaffed and poorly funded. How do you expect to employ quality people if you are not willing to pay them a "live able" wage? What contracted programs are forced to pay child care workers and other Suffolk County staff is scandalous, because Suffolk County is not willing to pay a just wage.
In the name of being cost effective, we are deceiving the public. We are paralyzing programs that could be cost effective and could make a difference. We are setting wounded teenagers up for failure and disaster. Ultimately, they are going to cost the taxpayer probably double because when we had the chance to heal and empower these struggling teenagers, we only further shackled them.