Justice placement helps teen turn it around

Layla became involved with REACH Edmonton through the Edmonton Youth Justice Committee Society (EYJCS) after committing a minor offense. Because she was a first-time offender, she was diverted to EYJCS where she attended a community panel rather than appearing in front of a judge in court. After hearing her story, the panel decided that completing community service and some other assignments would be an appropriate sanction. She was placed with REACH Edmonton and another community group to complete her community service hours. She tells her story here. There were some struggles happening within my family because my younger sister was seriously ill and in and out of the hospital. So I started looking outside my family for attention. I started hanging around with friends who weren't a great influence and didn't really have any goals and just lived in the moment. This was tough becase we were just starting high school. Because I wasn't really comfortable with that, I moved away from this group but was still looking for friends, so I started hanging out with a loose group of kids that I found out shoplifted on occasion. One day I was at the mall with one of these friends who stole something and I didn't stop her. When she got caught I was treated as an accomplice and was apprehended. Because it was my first offense, I was sent to EYJC instead of to court and was given community service hours to do. I went to the first placement with a community group and right away I felt like a "delinquent." I felt like it was just assumed that I was a bad kid. During a project I was paired with another kid who was doing community service, who asked me if I wanted to go smoke pot. It was just assumed that we should spend the day together because we were both "bad kids." I completed that part of my hours but then I started to do the rest of my hours at REACH. At first I was a little unsure of what REACH would be like, but right from the beginning I felt like I was really heard and people wanted to talk to me. I felt like I was getting some of the attention I had been seeking from less positive places before. It didn't feel like I was being punished. Instead it felt more like an internship - like I was being given an advantage and it was set up so that I would gain from it. I saw different things that were going on in the city. I learned about programs and services that I didn't know about. I got to work with other youth and felt like part of the team. I learned that you can make a positive out of any negative. When my hours were done REACH actually hired me to help out around the office. I did things that were of interest to me. I made posters, helped organize events and did other things to help out. When I was hired I felt like it kind of gave me bragging rights. I was really proud of myself and it made the whole experience worth it. It was a really great first job. It helped me become confident by working in a professional environment. In the end, I had more respect for the legal system and it opened my eyes to the different types of supports that are out there for youth and families. It helped me with the transition into high school, taught me the importance of being on time, being respectful of others and presenting myself in an appropriate way. It also helped me feel more independent and gave me more confidence. It helped me trust myself and I also became more outgoing. Because of the shoplifting incident, there was a falling out between me and that group of friends. It was a real lesson to me that there's more to life than impressing your friends and I have more important things to do than hang out with people like that. My family also benefitted from my work with REACH because I learned about all kinds of supports for struggling families in Alberta. Later, when my family was with my sister in a special children's hospital out of province, I suggested we look into what kind of supports might be available to us. It turned out we were able to get reimbursed for some of the costs involved with being away from home for medical treatment. When it came time to apply for university, having a positive reference from REACH helped me to get into a competitive program in the United States. Now, I'm going to university in the U.S. and I'm hoping to work in the medical field with kids one day. Even though I wasn't able to keep working with REACH because of transportation, school and my sister's illness, I stay in touch every once in a while with the REACH staff I had worked with. I really feel like my placement with REACH was a positive influence in my life and I'm better off because of it.