Reaching Wayward Youth In The Community
By Gwyn Oakes
As dogs yelped my arrival, several faces appeared at the dim-lit, curtainless, windows. I stood waiting, but I questioned why I wanted to be a juvenile volunteer probation officer.
Presently, a man buttoning his shirt opened the door and stepped out on the porch. There was no outside light, not even a street light. But the lights from my sister-in-law’s car illuminated the area enough for me to see the man quite well.
“Who are you looking for?” he called, making me feel even more like an intruder. I called back my name, told him I was a probation officer, and asked if this was the home of Billy Bryant.
“Oh, yeah, come on in. The dogs won’t bite”
His wife joined him and they met me in the yard. A little girl of preschool age clung to her mother’s hand. She asked, “Has she come to take Billy away, Mama?”
The question went unanswered as the parents recognized me as the pastor’s wife of the United Pentecostal Church. The strong odor of liquor came from the father, who shook my hand, and with his words tumbling over one another, told me how glad they were to see me. Perhaps I could help them with Billy’s problem. Their older son had been sent to reform school, and now Billy was following in his steps.
Since they had not invited me in and I had seen no sign of Billy, I asked if Billy was home. They quickly sent one of the smaller children to get him. His father introduced Billy to me. Billy stood with his head down while both of his parents described his crime of breaking and entering and petty larceny.
Neither of the parents was working and what money they received was being spent unwisely. This situation placed a strain on the adolescent child. He had gotten to the point that he felt no one cared about his problem.
As a certified volunteer probation officer, I had access to Billy’s school grades and attendance records. I found that he was a very capable student but had allowed his grades to drop drastically. He was at the point of being expelled because of his infractions of school rules.
It was my duty to visit with Billy on a regular basis, and to make a progress report. After becoming acquainted with Billy, I checked with our group of volunteers to see who could take him on for private tutoring in the school subjects in which he was failing. I found that Billy was both talented and interested in art. Being an artist myself, 1 encouraged him to do something with that talent.
Billy is not finished with high school, but he has already won state recognition as an artist. His grades have improved, and his attitude is now one of pride in his accomplishments. Billy is just one case of many. However, many do not end with good results.
Several dominant problems cause children to do as Billy did. Many parents today are not willing to invest time and energy in their children. Many families need two incomes to make ends meet—and when mother works, there is no one at home during the day to care for the children. In one survey of juvenile offenders, more than one half pointed to lack of communication with parents. When almost one half of marriages in North America are expected to end in divorce, growing up in a stable family is not as common as it once was.
The juvenile justice system is sometimes a dumping ground for un-nurtured and unruly children. In one case before the court, the father requested that his thirteen-year-old son be “incarcerated for an indefinite period of time, and not be released until his merits proved him worthy to return to his family.” Larry Dye, former director of U.S. Youth Development Bureau, pointed out that “parents can actually get rid of an unwanted adolescent by signing a petition saying the child is incorrigible or unmanageable.” In some states the rebellious child may end up in reform school or jail.
I had always heard of the “empty nest syndrome” The day my youngest child packed his car, kissed me, waved goodbye, and drove away to attend college in a distant city, I knew, as the tears ran unbidden down my cheeks, that I must re-feather my nest!
My husband and I have taken many troubled young people into our home over the years and have been blessed by doing so. I realize I cannot take them all in. But I volunteered my services to the county in which I live and just maybe, I can do as the wise writer of Proverbs suggested, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
This article “Reaching Wayward Youth In The Community” written by Gwyn Oakes is excerpted from Reflections the July/August 1986 edition.