Late last year I had the opportunity to meet with a large group of international visitors facilitated by the World-Affairs Council Seattle. The Dispute Resolution Center of King County and I had the pleasure of discussing the different systems in Turkey, The Bahamas, Venezuela, Yemen, Ethiopia, and many other countries.
One thing stood out in a way I rarely experience any longer. In the USA, we often trust parents to make the best decisions for their children. We trust that the Juvenile Justice system needs to protect the community from “dangerous youth.” We believe that adults can make decisions for youth without asking young people about their experience. In other countries it is incumbent on the state to promote the best interest of the children, regardless of the wants of the parents.
In the USA we treat young people as property of the parents. We make decisions without the input of those that will be most impacted. Do we really think young people have no ability to advocate for themselves? Can we not trust the voices of young people experiencing a family dissolution? Our foreign counterparts believe we can, and should hear the voices of our young people… stop treating them as property to be leveraged but and humans who need support and protection.
This leads to my final conclusion, often our juvenile justice system treats youth as the problem. As if somehow this 14 year old person has been intentionally make harmful choices. Where the voices of the nations who signed the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child say it is the role of the state to protect these children. Might it be helpful to change the name of the juvenile justice department to the “Child Protection Services?”
Do other countries do it “right” most certainly not, but are their things we can improve by listening to others, absolutely.