Ombudsperson Resolution Hearing | Youth Testimony : Mark & Alex

Mark & Alex, Youth Advocates ,
phila.

The following testimony was written and will be read by Juvenile Law Center's Youth Fostering Change and Juveniles for Justice Youth Advocates on April 8th at a virtual hearing on the need for a Philadelphia independent youth ombudsperson. 

You can RSVP to attend the virtual  hearing HERE.

You can learn more in a previous blog post and Sign-on to a support Letter HERE

 

Mark

Hello, my name is Mark Williams. I am 20 years old, and I have been working with the Juvenile Law Center, Youth Advocacy Program, as part of their Youth Fostering Change program for three years. 

I’ve been in the system since birth. People have stereotypes about you before they even meet you. They have preconceived notions about people who look like me. A lot of people associate a lot of negative qualities with people who look like me, talk like me, young black men. People do not have respect for you. People are not listening to you. My mistakes, the paperwork, sometimes we make mistakes, stuff you gotta learn from. You try to move past that stuff, become a better person, but you got people who still treat you like that same person from that paperwork. Especially when a lot of the stuff on the paper isn’t even true. It’s exaggerated or told from a biased point of view, a lot more complicated situations and some more simple ones. I tried to make sure people wouldn’t judge me by letting them get to know me. 

There are food shortages in facilities. There’s never enough food around. Especially in facilities run by the state. I just felt like with DHS supporting and funding programs, homes, group homes, foster homes, whatever it was, food should never be a problem. They make it seem like we are the problem and we are eating too much. Going further to make it seem like someone like me, a boney kid who doesn't eat enough already is the problem. Like I’m eating too much food, when in reality, there’s just not enough food being supplied. You just come home from school, no food, stuff like that. It’s crazy.

Furniture. Another thing I feel like DHS should have funded. I actually found out they were actually sending furniture, but it just never reaches you for a long period of time. There were several different places, I’ve gone without a bed, sleeping on the floor, when DHS is supposed to be responsible for what’s happening. Transportation is also a problem, you cannot visit your families.

Discipline. I feel like the way that people go about discipline needs to be looked at. It just seems like, when you ask someone why you discipline a kid, you discipline somebody to get a result like you’re trying to correct a behavior. The way that they go about disciplining or me personally, the way I felt like I was disciplined, it was not effective. It wasn’t meant to be a way to teach me a lesson. It didn’t seem like it was geared toward trying to correct a behavior, it seemed like it was out of spite, like somebody in a bar cussing at you so you beat them up type stuff. 

Staff antagonizing, provoking youth, and exacerbating stuff, problems between youth. They’re supposed to be there and resolve issues, you’re supposed to mediate issues and a lot of them were literally, I kid you not, doing the opposite, like they are a kid in there. They’re in there spicing up situations, picking sides. When really they’re supposed to be a neutral type of thing. It’s crazy. It just looks bad. You can repeat yourself, you tell people all the time “this is going on” and they really don’t listen. They removed me from that situation. I still don’t like how they handled that situation. 

The way people are treated, it’s not based on equality. These people, the way they treat kids...it’s like favoritism a little, they pick and choose who they like and respect and who they don’t like and respect. Who gets certain amenities, who doesn’t get those amenities. It’s not based on nothing but feelings, nothing but favoritism. Just because you like somebody you’re gonna give them that toothpaste every time they ask, but you don’t like me so you’re gonna take your time and laugh. You’re giving out snacks to everybody in the house, but when I ask for one you say “nah, you can’t have one” and for no good reason. Just because you don’t want to, just because you don’t like me. I just feel like it’s not fair. 

Some situations, and with my personality, I'm not gonna stick around too long if people are not doing what they gotta do. So some situations were never resolved and I was just left where I was, or I was removed. It probably still goes on today, but I just got out of that situation. I said certain things are going on in there, and I feel like they didn't exactly fix it as much as they did just remove me from the situation. A lot of people weren't able to be removed, 'cause you don't have a good grievance system or an Ombudsperson. There were a lot of situations where action was taken, steps were taken to make sure it didn't happen again, so it's a little of both, but only because I was more aggressive about making the problem known. A lot of people are unaware of how to make problems known.

With an Ombudsperson, I wouldn’t have to feel scared. These people were cold. I gotta say, these people are cold. They were aware that I was aware of what was going on. That was the scary part. You say certain things to people and you expect them to do something, like it's a no brainer.  They would try to shift the blame, because it's so easy to get a kid put in some lockdown placement, especially goes back to stereotyping. They take one look at me and they believe everything that people say. Then that paperwork, “the power of the pen,” they used to say, they treated it as facts. They used to write things that I literally did not do, like, "he's up there smoking in a bedroom" and I'm at work all day.  They would literally write you up for stuff that didn't happen that could affect your situation, you could literally get placed for that. So that was a little troublesome. To send in a grievance and get no response was definitely scary. It was really worrisome. It made me feel like this is what life was. At the moment it made me start to question things, made me start to just accept it in a way. This is just the power we gotta fight. Maybe I should be aiming to do that. Maybe I should be striving to be these crazy people...this is what life is.  

It all goes back to what we’re saying, about telling DHS over & over and nothing happening about it. We want time charts for accountability to make sure things get done. And also even more than DHS, the facilities themselves need to fix the problem. 

Having an Ombudsman person would have saved me a lot of time. The way they handled things, I felt like it was a time waster. I just spent a lot of time and energy trying to resolve these issues that I shouldn't have had to spend so much time and energy on, that didn't need as much time and energy on. With safety, a lot of these things, someone could have gotten seriously hurt. If we could get something done sooner, nip that in the bud, it wouldn't have taken a risk, somebody getting hurt, because of someone else's negligence. With all of that time I could have saved up from not dealing with that, I could have probably focused more on school. Sleep at night, and meals. I feel like with an Ombudsperson, I would have felt like I know exactly who to go to. I know something has gotta be done about it as opposed to having the same company that's causing the problems, fix the problems. This is why the ombudsperson position should be created for the city of Philadelphia. 

 

Alex

Hello, my name is Alex. I am 21 years old, and I have entered eight different placements, including Foster Care. I have been working with the Juvenile Law Center, Youth Advocacy Program, as part of their Juveniles for Justice program for three years, and I have been an active alumna for one year. The reason I continue to work on issues youth face is because I was a youth who had issues. Now, I am an adult still trying to fix the damage the system causes. I believe that we don't need generation after generation to fall apart due to a broken system, so it is important for us to share our testimonies to fix the damaged system.

Before I even walked into the courtroom, my worker told me I was not going home. They did not tell me how long I was staying.  They stated that I wasn’t going home. That was a lot for me to think about so fast, because it happened before I even walked in and theN,- when I walked into court, I didn’t even understand what they were saying. They said that I would be with my brother at an “on-grounds school” because he was placed a week before me.  My mom started crying. I figured I was being sent to placement because of the things that were going on at school- a school I didn’t even want to go to because I knew what would happen to me if I went there. Before I entered the justice and foster care system, I was living at home and going to Edison, my community high school, but the school had a bad reputation. I knew that if I went to that school things would not go well. It had a lot of police and was a really chaotic environment with little to no structure. We didn’t have a principal for about 2 months, or any support or programs. I didn’t feel comfortable showing up to school, I felt like there was no point of me going to school because I wasn’t learning. It wasn't safe, and was so unorganized in class. I remember my teacher gave me an assignment to complete that already had all the answers filled in. I told my mom I wanted to go to a better school that had more structure and more after-school programs so I would have a better experience, but I was sent to Edison instead. Instead of help, or the court asking me why I didn’t want to go to school or what was happening at school- I was sent to placement. 

When I got to the placement it was freezing, I didn’t even know the name or location, how long or where or even the real reason why I was placed. The second day at the placement, there was a “house meeting” with two groups of youth housed at the placements and a big fight broke out. I didn’t know what was going on. I was supposed to be meeting a staff member who would be assigned to me but I didn’t meet her until a week later. I should have met her within 24-48 hours. I wanted to talk with someone at the facility to know why I was placed, and why I did not get a warning. I kept thinking, did I get sent to placement, because my siblings went to placement, am I being sent here as a warning? I couldn't understand why they sent me when I had never been in trouble until I went to Edison. 

Being in placement kinda destroyed my life. It destroyed my education. I didn’t get proper education and none of my credits transferred. Being in placement feels like you're in a “halfway” house for children. Placement is what made me feel like I was a delinquent. No one offered me support from my community to go to a good school, the court should have given me support to stay home and offered to help me get into the right school I wanted to get into, not sending me to an unsafe community school. If our community had support for youth I wouldn’t have felt like I had to make certain choices to protect myself. I went from having to defend myself in school, to defending myself in a placement, just to go back home on my own and have to deal with the effects of all I went through before placement and while I was in placement. That is too much to worry about as a child. If I was offered support at home I would have only had to worry about what a child should have been worrying about: how I was going to finish out my classes at the school. 

I was a kid. I deserved better. We all deserve better. We deserve someone really fighting for us and for all youth in placement to have a local Philadelphia Ombudsman office to be a place where youth can go, to have someone on their side. Someone who we could have gone to who worked outside of the placement, and outside of the system. The least people can do is give youth an alternative. You all dont know what it’s like to feel scared not knowing where you are going, and that you're going to be in placement. We deserve chances to get alternatives. We deserve support. We deserve to be offered programs, better schools, and resources. We deserve something better than being put away. This is why I support Philadelphia having a local Ombudsman office in Philadelphia. 

Thank you. 

 

 

About the Expert

Marcía facilitates Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program: Youth Fostering Change, Juveniles for Justice, and the Youth Speakers Bureau. She also works closely with our attorneys on various policy-focused projects related to foster youth and transition-aged youth.

As Youth Advocacy Program Manager, Cathy manages, coordinates, and facilitates the office's youth advocacy programs: Youth Fostering Change, Juveniles for Justice, and the Youth Speakers Bureau. Additionally, Cathy supervises the yearly social work intern.