The Forgotten: Transitioning from the Age of At-Risk Youth

Kyla Giffin | Cowboy Life Editor, Galleria Editor

Throughout history, we have seen humans transition into and from many eras: the Heian period, varied Golden Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, Spanish hegemony, the Age of Oil, Apartheid, and so on. We have allowed ourselves to become defined by how we divvy up the years of our existence. However, humans can fail to recognize the periods of time that blend into others which may be considered more significant. The age of at-risk youth is one such period. And while we can choose to neglect it as a part of human history, the question is, should we?

“It is important to emphasize that at this moment, a child [or] youth is being abused, becoming a victim of human trafficking, and being neglected,” remarked Jennifer Harper, a Director at Alternative Family Services. “There is never a day or a moment that this isn’t happening.”

This is far from being an exaggeration. Every ten seconds, according to Child Help, a child is reported as being abused. With 86,400 seconds in a day, that adds up to a striking average of 8,640 children a day being abused.

Harper added, “Hopefully, the younger generations will realize how important it is to invest in their at-risk peers so they have a better chance of becoming independent members of society and not another tragic statistic.”

In my previous article, I shared stories of at-risk youth to stress that this should not happen–to make it apparent that at-risk youth are not just a statistic.

But is it yet evident how we will be able to alter the statistics?

In order to understand how the world can now shift from an existence-long era in which children are abused, living in poverty, living with a mental or chronic illness, or struggling with any other factor that categorizes them as at-risk, one needs to look at how it has been done before. The solution to the future lies in what has already occurred–in patterns.

Credit: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

Renee Hennessy, English teacher, was an at-risk child herself.

“I’m not shy about my childhood.  I share openly about it, when it’s appropriate,” declared Hennessy.  “It shaped me into the person I am today, and most days, I quite like myself.”  

How did she make her way out of the cycle of at-risk youth?

Hennessy explained,“It was finally in the 6th grade that the school nurse, who having been tipped off by the mom of my good friend, called me in and asked me if I needed her help with something, anything, that her office, my school was a safe place, where I could tell her something if I needed to. I finally told her what was happening at home.”

What followed for her was “CPS, police, doctors, hospitals, foster care, courts, [and] counseling…”

Coincidently, some of those things were ideas on how to help at-risk youth offered by Elaina Edwards, a counselor here at LHS.

She offered some “general helps and tips,” such as counseling for those who have been abused, neglected, suffer from a chronic illness, have drug issues, have had sexual relations, or have a mental disorder/illness. For abuse and neglect, Edwards also suggested Child Protective Services. In addition, her ideas for assistance included help from parents, guardians, teachers, and staff, as well as “outside and/or inside services.”

But in the end, for Hennessy, “Though a large majority of my past as a youth is sad and shameful,” Hennessy said, “I survived the years of child abuse because of school….I tell people that school saved my life. It did. I do my best to pay that forward, pay it back, do the same.”

Transitioning from a seemingly everlasting period of at-risk youth is difficult. But perhaps not impossible. And it does start with individuals who share their stories and pay it forward.

Is there a simple pattern that leads to a single algorithm? Can we develop such a thing?

To answer this, look to a quote by Albert Camus: “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?”

Eras are large, momentous. Transitions are often messy and chaotic, whether in a good way or a bad way, and they overlap to create a lump of continuous timelessness. But they all have something in common: people must go through them together.

Header credit: Flickr

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