Letters to the Editor

Youth detention: Dehumanizing kids is crux of problem

Re: “A place for kids whose parent won’t come pick them up,” (TNT, 11/6).

Matt Driscoll’s column is an important start to the conversation about youth in detention, and it needs to include the experiences of youth. Trauma rates are around 90 percent for youth in detention. Rates of mental illness among those kids is 70 percent. And juvenile detention further exposes kids to sexual and physical abuse.

These issues are seldom solved with a six-bed shelter for homeless youth. We need earlier, comprehensive help for families. Our systems need to spot troubled kids before they are in crisis. We have effective, evidence-based treatments for trauma and mental health which can help kids stay out of detention.

The language of public discourse shapes policy toward our most vulnerable. The dominant voice in Driscoll’s article echoes parents who are not appearing when it’s time to retrieve their children from detention, subjecting them to homelessness. Parents talk about being “done” with their kids. Professionals cited in the article describe “contamination” between high- and low-risk kids in detention.

Dehumanizing descriptions help us forget that prevention is possible for our youth. Let’s put our funding, and our words, behind social services for children.