Written by Yavapai County (AZ) Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Advocate Daniel Nash. YAP partners with youth justice and child welfare systems to serve as an alternative to youth incarceration and other congregate residential placements.
As a young boy, Ayden was full of life. He excelled in school and was placed in an academic program for gifted children. He was a skilled archer and often hunted or fished with his grandfather. Ayden also had a strong bond with dad who built custom show cars. Some of his most cherished memories are the times he spent with his dad at the shop or playing video games together. It’s fair to say, they were best friends.
Tragically, at the age of 9, Ayden lost his dad and best friend to suicide. He was separated from his mother and was placed with his younger sister to live with their grandparents. He began counseling and was only allowed to see his mother during supervised visits.
By the age of 14, Ayden had lost interest in school, become involved in drugs, and had been arrested and placed on probation.Counseling and supervised visits with mom continued but the rules of probation excluded him from core family activities like hunting, firearm training, and archery. Ayden’s local extended family in which his grandparents are actively involved with had also grown. Their time became divided and Ayden slowly withdrew from other family events.
When Ayden was referred to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. at 16, he was just a shell of a person. I was fortunate to be assigned his Advocate. At YAP Advocates work with young people to help them see their strengths.
We connect them and their parents or guardians with tools to help them achieve their goals. When YAP assigned Ayden to work with me, he had been on probation for almost three years, was in and out of group homes, had been through various rehabilitation programs, and was cut off from friends and social media. Conflict with family members was an almost daily event and he had achieved just a handful of credits toward high school graduation. Ayden’s attitude toward most things was generally negative including his introduction to the YAP program. He voiced his only positive moments as those spent playing hockey which he uses as an outlet for his anger and aggression. Ayden’s probation officer had had recently facilitated his entry into a temporary job assignment and outlined a school schedule that would require double the work in order to graduate with his class.
As Ayden and I began building our relationship, it came to light that many of the goals initially established during the initial YAP intake were not his own and that he was less than enthusiastic about reaching them. We openly discussed the reality of completing high school graduation as outlined. We discussed family dynamics and identified where and how conflict erupted. Real goals, some of which relied on the completion of others, were slowly identified. Ayden is a brilliant young man with great potential. His logic-based mind plotted a course to reaching his actual goals, which included replacing the high school graduation plan with a GED. This would allow for a full-time job and subsequently moving out on his own while enrolling in community college. Other goals included a cell phone, contact with friends, a car and driver’s license, and of course to be off of probation.
At the time of this writing, Ayden has completed his temporary job assignment and used his very first paycheck to personalize his bedroom, thus creating a comforting space to retreat to during conflict. He gained full time employment at Walmart and purchased a video game console to add to his comforts. Ayden and I worked together to convince his guardian grandparents to withdraw him from public school and he is now actively pursuing a GED through the community college. Reduced family conflict opened the door for a cell phone, which he purchased with his own earnings and friend privileges have been restored. Ayden has saved thousands of dollars, passed the online test for a driver permit, and has been released from probation over a month early. He has plans to purchase a truck from an out-of-state aunt which he will retrieve via a road trip with his grandfather. Although there are still challenges ahead, Ayden, with the help of YAP and the supportive members of his community, has redirected his course and he is now on a path that will work for him, a path to success. My YAP team and I wish him well on his journey.