When we think of youth involved in the juvenile justice system, it's all too easy for society to place labels on these young individuals who have had an encounter with the legal system. However, at CASA of Santa Cruz County, we firmly believe that justice-involved youth are not defined by the mistakes they've made or the offenses they've committed. They are, fundamentally, just kids.
Advocates working with these youth may find themselves initially nervous, faced with the unknown and the uncertainty of connecting with a youth for the first time. However, one fundamental truth always rises to the surface: behind the tough exterior, the disconnection, the challenging past, and the mistakes made, these individuals are, at their core, just kids.
These kids harbor dreams and aspirations, just like any other child. They find solace in the pages of books, lose themselves in tales of adventure, and yearn for an opportunity-filled future of financial independence and freedom. They want to go to college. They want to be positive role models for their younger siblings. They want someone to say, “I’m proud of you.” Yet, their journey is fraught with personal and systemic traumas. Many have witnessed unimaginable hardships at a tender age, impacted by poverty or houselessness, raised in single-parent households without a strong safety-net, and, in some cases, have become victims of crimes themselves or were born into communities impacted by violence.
From a very young age, the desire to fit in can lead even those with lofty goals down dangerous paths. Feeling unsafe in their environments, some resort to buying or carrying weapons in a desperate attempt to regain a sense of security.
The hurdles some youth face are further compounded by language barriers. Court-mandated rehabilitation classes and therapy sessions are typically conducted in English, making it difficult for Spanish-speaking youth to have their specific needs addressed and met, both in and out of court.
Poverty exacerbates the challenges they encounter. Parents, struggling with the high cost of living and meeting their basic needs, often lack the time and financial resources to visit or advocate for their children within the legal system. In such circumstances, the cycle of hardship becomes difficult to break.
This is where CASA advocates can step in.
CASA of Santa Cruz County recognizes that these kids are our future. Our advocates work tirelessly to bridge the gaps, offering support, guidance, and a listening ear. By acknowledging the humanity in these young individuals, CASA advocates break down barriers and build connections.
Our commitment is to ensure that every child, regardless of their past, has an opportunity to reach their fullest potential. With an advocate by their side, they can be seen for who they truly are: just a kid, deserving the opportunity to build a brighter future. Through the dedicated efforts of CASA advocates, we strive to instill hope, restore self-confidence, dream big, and help these kids rewrite the narrative of their lives.