June 14, 2006 — Shane Slater, founder and current executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of the District of Columbia, realized he wanted to go back to his foster home at age 16 after he wound up in the middle of a gunfight as a result of his father's reckless actions.
The author of "Trouble Don't Last Always," Slater was abandoned by his mother and knows firsthand what it is like to fall through the cracks of a foster home. Growing up, he said that he lied, stole and cheated. As a result, no one trusted him.
Slater gave the keynote speech to a crowd of over 100 at the Divi Carina Bay Resort, including senators, leaders of youth organizations and members of St. Croix's youth community. Sponsored by the V.I. Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the symposium – entitled "Strategies and Solutions for the Virgin Islands: Views and Reports from the Front Lines" – is an effort to address issues negatively impacting troubled youth.
After nearly being shot in the aforementioned gunfight, Slater said he realized "it was time to go back to school and get serious." Although he had attended six high schools in four years, he graduated as class valedictorian. While giving his valedictory speech he said he realized "trouble don't last always." That's when he discovered he had a purpose in life.
As Slater told his story Wednesday, he reached out to all, especially the children in the audience who had similar upbringings. He stood as an example that a person's life can drastically change for the better.
John A. Tuell, director for the Child Welfare League of America's (CWLA) Juvenile Justice Systems Integration Initiative, began his remarks by recounting the story of a seven-year-old girl who had lived in 11 different foster homes, receiving very little direction. The abandoned and neglected girl was none other then Marilyn Monroe, who tragically died in her late 20s of a drug overdose. Tuell used the anecdote to underscore how the effects of a troubled childhood can often carry over into adulthood, adding, "Being abused increases the likelihood of arrest and drug use."
Tuell said CWLA has developed a four-phase framework to improve outcomes for misguided youths, adding that the approach must be comprehensive to curb the ongoing problems of teen pregnancy, youth violence and drug use. "If we do not fundamentally reform youth-serving systems, then these children will continue to fail out of every institution."
During the luncheon presentation, Family Court Judge Patricia Steele stressed that parents must be held accountable for their children and encouraged them to participate in positive activities. She ended her speech saying, "The death of a nation begins in the home of its people."
Carol Battuello, assistant program manager of Girls Cottage, led a session entitled "Gender Specific Programs: Meeting the Need of the Female Adolescent." She said female involvement in crime is on the rise and that a large percentage of female juvenile delinquents were physically or sexually abused.
However, she added that there is hope. "We want girls to understand they are part of a greater community," Battuello said. She advocated Female Response Services to restore the relationships harmed by the girls' offending behavior and their own histories of victimization.
According to Master of Ceremonies Roderick Moorehead Sr., a series of follow-up actions will be taking place in the next couple months, including meetings with pertinent agencies.
During the luncheon's interactive presentation, Solutions Improvisations Youth Group performed skits showing the harmful affects of juvenile delinquent behavior.
Short speeches were also made by Drug Policy Advisor Meridith Nielson, Sen. Lorraine Berry and State Advisory Group Chairperson Clema Lewis. Additional speeches were also presented given on the topic of adolescent mental health disorders.
The next workshop will take place Thursday, June 15, at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Hotel on St. Thomas.
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