each child, no matter the label, the skills and support needed for lifelong success. If we don’t make changes soon, these kids are going to continue to plague the city with violent, criminal behavior,” Footes says.
Kimberly Bradley, a CPS Special Education teacher and case manager, agrees. Currently working at Cook County Jail’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center as a Special Needs Instructor, she has connected with multitudes of juvenile offenders ranging from the nonviolent to those incarcerated for murder.
“Cook County should not carry the sole responsibility of students failing to successfully integrate into mainstream society. It is important to acknowledge that parents, communities, schools, organizations, and agencies must be held accountable as well. These students are in desperate need of as many wrap-around services as they can receive,” she says.
Bradley also believes that youngsters must have the individual will to change their outlook, attitude and behavior in order to discover the benefits of a life away from the streets:
“I have witnessed opportunities presented to students to be productively reintegrated back into the community and they show little to no interest. For example, there are summer job programs specifically available to juvenile offenders, but some of the students turn them down because they believe it doesn’t pay enough.”
CPS has a program designed to give each student a career track post high school. However, once the student graduates, there is zero legally mandated follow up. Many teachers, me included, have failed to effectively implement these plans for each student on a consistent basis. In worst-case scenarios, teachers totally ignore them and completely fabricate the data.
As a West Side resident, I see some of my former students in the streets occasionally. Most say they’re doing well and staying out of trouble, but company they keep and the corners they stand on tell a different story. To my knowledge, at least five of them have graduated to adult imprisonment.
The taboos must end. The stigma of being “special” must be eliminated. Until families, communities, and educators are willing to face up and combat the problem as a unified force, this problem will remain understated, overlooked and as destructive as ever to every core aspect of a healthy community.
*Students' names have been changed.