Friday, Jul 29, 2016
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Opinion

City's juvenile delinquents lose advocate

Even after a decade in the classroom and a few years as a high school guidance counselor, Dorothy Haverbusch still found surprises in her new job as juvenile court psychologist.

It was 1974, a time of transition. Popular culture had one foot in the hangover of the peace-n-luv era, with the other foot poised to land in the party-all-night disco era.

Then as now, there was no shortage of juvenile delinquents.

"It was a big eye-opener for me," says Ms. Haverbusch. "I started to read the family files about peoples' lives, and it was just such an eye-opener to see what these youth had encountered. "

The young girl, for example, who just could not adjust to family life.

"The street just called her, the excitement of that life. Street life was what was normal for her. A calm, secure, nurturing home environment - for some of these kids, that's almost culture shock."

Perhaps surprisingly, after nearly three decades of daily dealings with Toledo's littlest criminals, Ms. Haverbusch finds kids today essentially unchanged.

"I've always seen youths who were very damaged from the day I walked in here, but it seems now that it's exacerbated with accessibility to weapons, and the violence that's promoted in our society."

Juvenile mental illness is something else that's increased since the 1970s.

"There were days when I said, 'Just give me a good car thief, someone who's had a good time joyriding.' Now, it's severe mental illness. Whether we're reaping fetal alcohol syndrome or whatever, I'm not wise enough to say."

After a retirement party earlier this week, Ms. Haverbusch, 61, ends a 26-year court career without numbness to the troubled lives of wayward kids.

"Some of these youths have been very damaged by people in their lives, and they form their own rules. And some of those rules get people in trouble. For example, one rule is often, 'Grab what you can get whenever you can get it.' When you've been raised without anyone to rely on, trust is difficult for these kids," she explains.

Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge James Ray says the court will be the worse for the psychologist's departure.

"There was a time when Dorothy may have been the only mental-health professional who really, really understood delinquents. Eight hours of every working day for Dorothy was with delinquents and the people who cared for them. The amazing thing is she didn't go crazy herself."

For this, Ms. Haverbusch credits religious faith.

Early on, she says, she would pray for divine help, so that she'd know what to say to these kids and how best to help them.

"As I moved through my career, though, I've learned to pray for them, that they would know how to change their lives. Underneath all the evil, there's a sense of resilience and hope that needed to be touched. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn't."

Victories in juvenile court tend not to be the splashiest of milestones. When a probation officer has "really good news" to report, it might simply mean a graduation from high school.

"I always said, 'When I start to see the kids of the kids, then I'm out of here.' There's one case where I worked with a girl, and the file said she was born at the [state youth incarceration] institution. And now her child is on the way there. In the last five years, I've seen that cycle repeat itself more."

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Readers may contact her at 724-6086, or e-mail roberta@theblade.com.

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