Hear Us: “If It Can Be Broke, It Can Be Fixed”
January 20, 2023 | Race to Equity Project, Kids Forward
Over three years ago we started the HearUs podcast to amplify the voices of youth in the Wisconsin youth justice system. Our vision: Young adults need to be the central voices for reform. When talking with the youth, we quickly found recurring themes emerge from the experiences shared with us. Our original idea evolved into a much more expansive project as the complexity and intersections of their lives and experiences demanded more context, a deeper dive into the system itself, and additional perspective from professionals in the field.
Keela, Jamie, Megan, Mya, Elijah, and Termaine shared life-altering traumatic experiences, mental health issues, disappointment, and ways the system failed them.
Keela shared her experience moving from one system to another. “I was taken out of one situation and placed into another. When I hit 14 I was in shelters and group homes. It was a lot of weight to bear, understanding I didn’t have certain people to help me out. I became angry, I started fighting and soon that led me into the juvenile system around 15-16.”
Prior to Covid-19 there was already a looming youth mental health crisis, but the pandemic has exacerbated these struggles for many youth across the country. Anxiety and depression have increased, especially for youth of color.1 A shortage of facility workers and social workers has made solving this mental health crisis even harder. As a result, youth are being sent to detention, confined for extended periods of time, waiting far too long to receive critical services, and are disconnecting from community and educational settings.
However, in the words of Termaine, “If it can be broke, it can be fixed.” To realize change that improves the lives of Wisconsin’s youth, we must listen to and support those most impacted, instead of leaving them to languish in a system that is not meeting their needs. As advocates, we must respond to this crisis with a sense of urgency and accountability. This requires us to hold ourselves accountable and to address harm instead of perpetuating it. We can do through increasing access and investment to preventive services, family-supporting services, and stronger community-based interventions. As Termaine said, “I really feel like with the proper help people can really do something better with themselves.”
We need to listen carefully and earnestly to youth. They dedicated time and energy to share their lives with us and the audience. Effective, compassionate solutions require us to center these youth voices. As we reflect on this work and the voices in the podcast, it is crucial to ask ourselves: Are we centering impacted individuals? Are we listening to those folks when they share what they need?
HearUs, a podcast created by the Race to Equity Project at Kids Forward, was a 2022 Media for a Just Society Award finalist in the podcast/radio category. The mission of Kids Forward is to inspire action and promote access to opportunity for every kid, every family, and every community in Wisconsin. Kids Forward envisions a Wisconsin where every child thrives.