June, 24 2017
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Program Helps Florida Troubled Teen
A troubled teen almost fell through the cracks, but grit and guidance put her back on the path to being a productive citizen and serious student.
Spare Shiris Roque the lecture about idle hands and trouble. She has no time for it. Her work days begin every morning at 5 at a Dunkin' Donuts not far from the west Lake Worth home where she lives with her aunt and uncle. She arrives in darkness, bleary-eyed but determined to make the most of this job. It's her first. And it might be saving her life.
Roque is 17. But it's not 17 the way many children get there. Roque has seen and done things that make her very much an adult. Two years ago, her mother died of AIDS after a long and slow decline. Roque helped care for her the best she could, but she was young and a hidden anger simmered just below the surface.
The death brought relief in some ways, but it also cut Roque loose. Still in high school, she began cutting class and hanging out with friends in dark places. She smoked and experimented with drugs. She picked fights and sometimes erupted in violence.
She ran away from home.
What Turned This Teen's Downward Spiral Around
Last fall, Roque was serving part of a nearly four-month sentence for various crimes at Palm Beach County's Juvenile Detention Center in West Palm Beach when she met a therapist who specializes in teen cases like hers. The pair clicked, setting the stage for a remarkable transformation that now has Roque in bed and asleep at hours when her former self would have been out looking for trouble.
"Even if I wanted to, I'm usually so exhausted at the end of the night that all I want to do is sleep," said Roque, who also attends high school classes four nights a week and is on course to graduate in June. "That's probably the best thing for me."
Programs that Have made this Possible
It might not have been possible if not for the nonprofit Parent-Child Inc., a division of the Community Partnership Group in Riviera Beach. The agency works with dozens of at-risk youth making the delicate transition from jail back into law-abiding society.
How the Program Helps Troubled Youth
For the people who talk about seemingly troubled teens falling through the cracks of the system to commit crimes as adults, this agency is one of the ways to fill those cracks. Its staff of therapists, social workers and psychiatrists is funded through state and federal grants, but also relies on private donations to pay for some of the most basic learning materials to turn kids around.
"Once they're in the system, it's so hard for some of them to break free of it and live a normal life again," said Susan Pope, one of the agency's senior therapists who are often working with between 10 and 20 children at a time. Some are in elementary school.
"Some kids don't learn the first, second, third or even fourth time. You have to stay with them. You have to get them talking and open up," she said.
That was the key with Roque. Now, Pope holds her up as an example of how children from difficult backgrounds can change. Pope even hopes Roque can be a type of mentor for other young girls in the detention center who see their lives leading down a similarly destructive path.
"You can learn from your mistakes," Roque said. "You don't have to keep falling into the same trap that got you in trouble in the first place. I had to separate from my old friends. By the time I got out [of the detention center], I was ready to take a break from it."
Troubled Teens Have a Hard Time Breaking the Cycle
Many teenagers do not. A 17-year-old Pope has been working with since his first arrest at 10 recently ran away from a residential substance abuse program and violated his probation. The boy didn't return phone messages Pope left and blew off appointments to meet. Pope fears he has fallen back into some of his old drug habits and might be lost for good.
"Often, when the kids come back you're starting back at square one," Pope said. "It's hard sometimes to know what to do for these kids. You just have to keep with it and hope you're making that connection."
Pope saw it in Roque after just a few visits. She seemed eager to leave her troubled childhood behind and see what else life can offer.
"She was the first person I met who actually talked to me like a regular person," Roque said of Pope. "It's like she knew what I was going through."
They met regularly over the next several months. They talked about school, about relationships, about dreams. Roque said she hopes to study nursing after high school. But she's already immersed in the adult world, balancing work with her education. That's enough to think about now.
"Fill the doughnuts, color them, work the register," Roque said. "I do a little bit of everything because it's important to stay busy."
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