An efficient and effective youth justice system holds kids accountable, helps them grow up to become contributing members of their community, and increases public safety. Kentucky has made strides in improving its youth justice system in recent years with the passage of SB 200 in 2014.

This Christmas wish is from a parent of a teenager with autism who, as a 13 year old, inappropriately responded to what he perceived as a solution, and resulted in him being incarcerated for the next four years. Today, with SB 200 provisions, stronger considerations would be made to have connected him and his family with community services to guide him in growing his decision-making and problem-solving skills in a place that is more appropriate for his development towards adulthood.  

xmas-giftChristmas.  Traditions.  Family.  It’s a magical time of year.  But not for everyone – every year.

The last time we experienced Christmas magic was in 2011. That was the last time our son was home for Christmas.  He was so young then – thirteen. He may not have believed in Santa Claus anymore but still hung on to the magic of Christmas morning treasures under the tree from “him.”  He always made a long list of items he hoped he would get and would reminisce about what he had gotten last year – every year on our yearly excursion to a local mall he would thank  “Santa” for that special gift.

But the events of the last four Christmases have erased the magic – for everyone in our family. When thinking about celebrating this year, the frame of reference goes to “what did we do last year,” and that brings up memories of not one but four Christmases we managed to survive.  Don’t get me wrong. We are excited and happy and thankful to be together this Christmas. We are trying to work through the melancholy that seems to pervade tree decorating and cookie baking and gift buying.  There’s no long list this year. My soon to be adult son has grown beyond that.  It’s almost like he’s afraid to trust that this year he can once again dare to wish for something and it might come true.  A “real” Christmas:  one that includes his sister; a day of playing games and trying on new clothes; a day being with family – not having to wait for Sunday and a Merry Christmas greeting while sitting at a table for three hours of visitation.

Every one of these past four years my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  And every year I would reply that the only thing that I wanted was what I couldn’t have. This year I have what I want – my son home for Christmas.  But not all families will be able to be together this year. I wish peace of mind to those who won’t be able to see or hear their child’s voice on Christmas Day.  I wish for them the gift of hope – that their incarceration journey will end soon and will be replaced with joy.

Read more about responding effectively to children who get in trouble here.