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Congratulations to our 2018 Spring Scholarship Winner, Shaina Levinson!

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Bio:

My name is Shaina Levinson; I am 26 years old and the youngest of three. I grew up in Guilford, CT, where I lived with my father, step-mother, two brothers, a step-brother, a step-sister, and 2 dogs. I have just completed my bachelor’s in social work and am pursuing my master’s in social work (MSW) at Barry University, in Florida. I am prepared and ready to move to Florida this August, which will be a huge change for me! From a young age, I have experienced an innate sense and desire to fight social injustices, which is why I embarked on my tenure in social work. As a nanny, over the years I have developed an invested interest in practice with children, but particularly trauma-informed practice. Thus, I plan to pursue a clinical concentration in Barry’s trauma-informed program; and eventually undergo clinical hours to obtain my License in Clinical Social Work (LCSW). In the future I hope to enroll in a doctorate program for my PhD in social work to further my education and practice.

Outside of academia:
I love baseball and am a huge Red Sox fan, born and raised. I love to read books about topics regarding social justice, neurobiology, and child development. My vocation in life is to continuously expose myself to differing cultures by traveling; not only to learn, but to view the world through a non-biased lens.

Essay Prompt:

Juvenile cases can be especially tricky, and will almost certainly have an impact on the juvenile’s life. Do you think laws regarding juvenile crimes should be harsher, or provide more options for rehabilitation/deference?

Essay:

Children and adolescents who commit criminal offenses should be held accountable by means of restrictive arrest regulations, as well as referred for relevant rehabilitative and treatment services. Many of the risk factors associated with juvenile delinquency stem from childhood trauma and adverse experiences to which alter an individual’s neurobiology. When trying juveniles for delinquent crimes, it is imperative that the juvenile justice system acknowledge the individual’s demographic information; epigenetics; the community in which they reside; as well as specific life experiences. Taking these factors into account will allow judicial appointees to determine the etiology of the problem; then refer the child to attainable services that provide support, treatment, and empowerment. In doing so, these youth are given the opportunity to rehabilitate their altered physiological development, and subsequently, change their behaviors.

Notably, the laws, policies, and regulations relevant to the juvenile justice system vary from state to state here in America. Initially, the system was designed over 100 years ago to intervene in the lives of at-risk children and adolescents, to better serve their needs in terms of rehabilitation and treatment. However, as a result of societal upheaval during the 1980’s, politicians enforced stricter laws and regulations as a means of prevention and protection amid communities (McCord, Widom, and Crowell, 2001). Although the politicians’ intentions to protect the public were honorable, the punitive punishments placed on children and adolescents failed to promote rehabilitation. Still today, as a result, these children and adolescents are perceived as criminals by legislators and treated in the same manner as adult criminals, regardless of significant differences in their biopsychosocial developmental stages. Ultimately, these punitive punishments fail to promote or foster proper treatment, empowerment, and reintegration amid society.  

Children and adolescents are a vulnerable population of individuals who continuously develop physiologically into adulthood. Children’s developing brains absorb every stimulus amid their environments: observing, perceiving, and analyzing every interaction. Consequently, individuals who grow up in households and communities surrounded by adversity, in relation to poverty, oppressed populations, and precarious neighborhoods, etc. are at greater risk for committing delinquent behaviors as a result of altered brain structure and stress response. In her book titled Childhood Disrupted (2015), science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa conveyed how:

When a young brain is repeatedly thrust into a state of hyperarousal or anxiety because of what’s happening at a child’s home, community, or school, the stress axis gets tipped into reaction over and over again, and the body becomes routinely flooded with inflammatory stress neurochemicals. (p. 32)

When the circulatory network amid the brain displays deficiencies in perception, regulation, and decision-making, an individual’s ability to cope with life stressors is insufficient. This altered and deficient architecture of the brain has a lasting impact on an individual’s ability to function throughout daily life.

As a social worker pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Barry University beginning August 2018, I am dedicated and eager to positively intervene in the lives of at-risk youth. While studying for my bachelor’s at Central Connecticut State University and interning with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), I had the opportunity to be exposed to the juvenile justice system, and Connecticut’s only (now closed) training school for juveniles. The Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), which was located in Middletown, provided inpatient rehabilitation services to youth charged with delinquent behavior. Not only did the institution provide treatment, vocational training, and educational services, but professionals there implemented a therapeutic restorative justice approach to decrease delinquent behavior and improve cognitive and social-emotional skills. As DCF Commissioner Katz reported, “the youth were often victims of early trauma and had behavioral health needs that required attention, and we provided extensive services to the youth while at CJTS and following their discharge into the community.” (DCF, 2018) She goes on to explain:

The Department was expected to work miracles after other systems had failed.  And despite so many odds, we did. Youth graduated high school, recovered credits, learned vocations, developed coping skills, rekindled family ties, and received much needed behavioral health supports. (DCF, 2018)

However, due to the failure of social institutions and the closing of the facility, these young victims of adversity are now faced with increased anxiety: the unknown. The unknown in relation to where they will go next, who will look after them, for how long, what guidance and safety they will receive, etc. In other words, by eliminating these effective rehabilitative safe havens, our population of disadvantaged and underserved youth are treated exactly how they feel: worthless. It is my job as a social worker to inspire other systems and stakeholders, particularly the juvenile justice system and politicians, to invest funds, time, and effort to help foster resiliency in the minds of so many of the underprivileged youth who shape the future of our country.

References

Connecticut State Department of Children and Families. (2018). Connecticut Juvenile Training

School (CJTS). Retrieved from http://www.portal.ct.gov/dcf/cjts/home

McCord, J., Widom, C.S., & Crowell, N.A. (2001). Juvenile Crime Juvenile Justice.

The National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/9747/chapter/1#ii

Nakazawa, D.J. (2015). Childhood disrupted: How your biography becomes your biology, and how you can heal. New York, NY: Atria.

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