FFI has been privileged to work with exceptional leaders in a range of fields and professions who are deeply committed to increasing equitable access to wellbeing. One such leader is Cheryl Campbell, Director, St. Louis County Juvenile Detention Center. After a long and illustrious career Cheryl recently announced her decision to retire. As her weeks were winding down, FFI asked Cheryl to share some reflections and thoughts on her work and the impact a wellbeing orientation has made on the children in her care.
Q: What brought you to this field/work?
A: I was a sophomore in high school and we did a field trip to St. Louis County Juvenile Detention Center. I was spellbound that a place like this existed and that kids were locked up away from family, friends, and school. Hearing from the staff who worked there influenced me the most. They were very kind and loved what they did to help kids turn around. I decided that I would write Superintendent Dale Duggan to see what I needed to do in order to work at the Center.
To my delight, he took the time to respond to my handwritten letter and suggested that I finish high school, go on to college and take up criminal justice, social work or human services. I took his suggestion to heart and decided to go to Missouri Valley College because they had a program that would give me a Bachelor of Science in Social Work.
I wrote Superintendent Duggan another letter requesting to do a practicum at the Detention Center, which he allowed me to do. I was definitely hooked. I finished my degree in three years completing my Bachelor of Science in Social Work. When I returned to St. Louis, I worked briefly for the Human Development Corporation and Division of Family Services. I was hired as a Detention Unit Leader in December of 1977. I was eager to begin my journey of making a difference in the lives of children.
Q: What makes you passionate about the work?
A: We have the potential to change the lives of the juveniles we serve by exposing them to things they never believed possible. It could be as simple as learning to read, participating in classical guitar lessons, or just letting them know that someone cares. Each day we learn something from someone, and it builds connections that can shape how our future can be. If I had not taken the tour of the Detention Center when I was in high school, my life would have been missing an extraordinary piece of my future. Every day that I come to work, I learn something new from staff and residents. No day is the same, although it may look that way until you find just a hint of something that can make a difference to someone. The next task is trying to see how we can make that a reality; that takes time and commitment. This is a team effort and all the parts of the team need to have the same mission. That is the difficult part because everyone has his or her own idea about how to accomplish that goal. Bottom line is that we all know that we can make a difference and never give up making sure that the kids we serve deserve our best in helping them grow and make better choices for their future. Some days are harder than others, but ultimately seeing that twinkle in the eye of someone who has accomplished something they never dreamed they could do makes it all worth it.
Q: What have been the moments that have made you the most proud?
A: Having someone that did not know how to read learn how to read and actually start a book club when they left the Center. Having someone stop me in the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant and say, “Remember me?” Even if I do not always remember them, I tell them I am proud that they are doing well. Hearing a young lady say that she was the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Her great-grandmother, her grandmother and her mother did not complete high school, but she earned her high school diploma here at the Center. In fact, she called back to let our staff know that she enrolled in a cosmetology program. A young man gets out of prison, returns to see me, and says, “I should have listened to you, but I didn’t. Now I want to do something so no one has to go down the path I chose.” Not only did that individual do what he said, he also started his own non-profit organization. In addition, he has volunteered to help at-risk juveniles for more than 16 years. That is the hope that we have when we reach out and give back, letting those we serve know that we all make mistakes, we can learn from them, and may make the same mistake again. But we learn and do better each time.
You never know what impact you will have on a young person’s life. But when they walk up to you at the mall, grocery store or even in the Courthouse and want to let you know that they are doing good, it makes you proud that you had a small part in making a difference in their lives.
Q: What do you see as the most important trends and changes happening in the field right now?
A: When the Juvenile Court changed into the Family Court in 1993, it took on a new focus. We were communicating with all parties through a single Family Court Judge for all matters involving a minor and his/her family. This opened up opportunities for us to look at a juvenile through a new lens, with increased continuity and consistency throughout the judicial process.
The biggest change has been making sure we examine the root causes of why a young person is in the system, and how we can go about making the necessary changes in the system as well as outside the system to make a difference in their lives. After looking at the “full frame,” we build on what we know and what we will need to help the juveniles we serve be successful in the future. Through our Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, we are communicating with a broad network of individuals, agencies and advocates, asking for assistance in ensuring that Court involved youth have equitable access to resources and relationships so they can experience success at school, in their families and in the community.
Q: Why are you drawn to a wellbeing orientation and the full frame approach?
A: It fits perfectly with the direction we are headed towards in making a difference in the lives of the juveniles we serve. We cannot just look at what is on the surface; we need to delve into what the constellation of needs is for the individual as well as their family. Everyone has basic needs, and if you can meet those you can then move on to find the underlying cause of the problem. That allows us to develop a relationship, so that each resident feels comfortable sharing with us. Building on that foundation, while fostering growth in the individual, results in change. Everyone needs to meet the five domains of wellbeing (social connectedness, stability, safety, mastery and meaningful access to relevant resources) and if we take the time to find out what individuals need, we can make positive, long-lasting changes for our families.
Q: What has been the value and impact of integrating a wellbeing approach into your work?
A: When I look at the five domains of wellbeing, it makes sense that we can get more accomplished with this model rather than any other behavior modification theory that we currently use. You really get to know the child and connect with them. Likewise, the child understands that you are trying to help them resolve their own problems in a more constructive manner. You are dealing with them as individuals in a way that is specific to their needs and concerns.
Our Tier system was developed with the five domains of wellbeing in mind. It has been successful in helping residents become more accountable and obtain a sense of accomplishment in a way that the previous token economy system failed to provide. Residents can achieve whatever they want to achieve; they have choices. The bottom line is that they have to put in the work in order to be successful. Some achieve mastery while others chose to stay where they feel safe, or have a social connection, and do not want to go any higher within the system.
We can provide our youth resources, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice to choose the path that will be right for them.