A response from an MST staffer and parent
As I read Laurie Spivey’s most recent blog post, "Charging Juvenile Offenders as Adults," I have to admit I struggled. I live in an area where a young person committed one of those horrific crimes on school property that put children I care for at risk. This young person’s behaviors put fear in the eyes of friends who grew up together and violated that sacred ground—their safe space. Community temperature ran high.
For me, as someone who is trained in Multisystemic Therapy (MST), who is trained in adolescent brain development and who in my head knows the best answer—the right answers—I struggled. For a moment, I had to really think. “If this were my child being directly victimized, what would I want?” This situation hit so close to home—our children were there—and now, this was a very real question for me and my family.
This was one of the moments in life when I had to ask myself, do I practice what I preach? I, then, had to challenge myself. What if I was the parent of the young person who had done this? Grandparent? Friend? Church member? How would I want them to respond?
In our home, it became a real dilemma.
A hard decision: Try as adult or juvenile?
As the case moved through the court system, the county DA had to make a decision of whether to charge this young person as an adolescent or an adult. As these things do, the question took a life of its own and soon became a conversation on social media, with many weighing in on Facebook.
As you might imagine, opinions were wide with people from all over joining the conversation. Family members in my house included. The emotions continued to run high. Asking a lot of “what ifs...”
Again I had to take a step back, use the Nell Bernstein "My Child" test and hold my ground. What would I do if this were my child?
Putting all children first
In either side of the story, I would want the best for all the children involved. I want the victims to have the very best care they can have. I want their families to know how sorry we are this happened to them. I want them to know our heart goes out to them every day. I want the young people in the school to know we want them to be safe. We want their school to be that place where they go to learn, meet their friends, grow as healthy as they can be. I want the schoolteachers, principals, all personnel to know they deserve to be safe in their work environment. They need to be free to do their jobs.
And, I want the young person who for so many reasons committed the crime to be held accountable for his actions while still feeling valued and heard. Consequences, for sure, but also to get a chance to have a life. To be charged as a juvenile for all the reasons Laure Spivey identified in her blog.
I want us to live in a just world where people are held accountable for their actions in safe environments, and have an opportunity for redemption and rehabilitation. I want my children to grow up and be educated in a safe environment. I want the very same things for others whose children may make mistakes before they are old enough to know the long-term impact of their impulses.
For those who are still struggling with these decisions, I stand beside you, and I encourage you to look beyond what is right in front of you, to what we can do as a society to ensure that our young people who are the greatest resource of all have a chance, no matter what their start is, to be better.
Lori Moore is a Manager of Network Partnerships and former MST therapist.
To learn more about what makes MST an effective intervention for at-risk youth, download this white paper.