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Photovoice at the Youth Services Center

Article  Anjalee Greenwood
photovoice poster

The Office of Diversity and Equity recently partnered with the Youth Services Center (YSC) to facilitate Photovoice projects for youth detained at YSC. This project was created in order to educate others about stigma surrounding mental health for detained youth. Additionally, this project provided youth an opportunity to share their voice.

A curriculum was created that involved providing youth with psychoeducation about stigma and a chance to reflect on times they felt stigmatized. Through our meetings with the youth and through their Photovoice projects, we found youth felt more stigmatized due to their detainment than their mental health needs. The biggest theme we found was youth feeling judged and treated as the “problem child” without people taking the time to get to know them or figure out their needs. All youth stated they wished people knew they are “good kids” and their past behavior does not define who they are. They expressed they could change their behavior; they just needed a chance to do so.

All five youth participants had experienced traumatic events in their past such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, witnessing gang violence, witnessing domestic violence, and/or immigration trauma. Many times, behaviors labeled as “noncompliance” or “aggressive” are in response to trauma triggers.

These findings imply that BHRS staff and other adults working with detained youth or youth on probation should be mindful of the fact that most youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced trauma. Interacting with youth in a more trauma informed way is critical to their success. Looking past their charges and connecting with youth on a personal, human level is important. All youth expressed feeling misunderstood by the adults around them. Focusing on the strengths they have to offer and building on these strengths is essential to helping them overcome difficulties.

It would be helpful for BHRS to continue to conduct Photovoice projects with youth in the justice system as a way for them to feel heard and understood. Photovoice projects can be presented to community members in San Mateo County as an effort to reduce the “problem child” label that society places on youth.  Additionally, presenting these projects to judges and law makers may help change the system to be more trauma informed as a whole.   

View these and other photovoice projects on our gallery

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