In the fall of 2005 I wrote an essay as vice president/ director of operations for an adolescent transport company, regarding law enforcement training and whether or not it is beneficial in adolescent transport services. (“Is a Law Enforcement Background a Valuable Asset Adolescent Transports?” from November 2005.) My business partner and I have worked with numerous successful adolescent runaway interventions and recoveries over the years, and I recently incorporated my adolescent transport services with the private investigations agency I currently work with. We have found that the information in my first essay has more significance now than ever. This includes both adolescent transports and runaway interventions and recovery. I feel that bringing attention to this topic once again is timely.
Having worked with “at- risk” adolescents for twenty five years in various capacities, there are a couple things that are evident. First, it is clear what works and what does not in transporting a young person to a program. Second, certain patterns develop when working with young people over time. Some of these are patterns young people tend to follow when they are faced with going to a “program,” whether they go with parents or with trained competent transport professionals. Bear in mind, these are generalized patterns. Every child is different and there are always exceptions, but in my observations these patterns exist none the less.
With the many schools and programs I have worked with, the one thing I have heard over and over is that the kids we brought, or those brought by other competent professionals, integrate into program quicker. In general these children are better prepared to deal with the changes and challenges they will face coming into a program than if their parents brought them under less than ideal circumstances.
Many parents or guardians faced with transporting their child to a program tend to think that if they have to resort to “strangers” to escort their child, they have either somehow failed or they feel the experience will negatively influence their child and their relationship with that child. It’s hard enough to face the fact that a child has to go to a program. Some feel that no matter how difficult the task, their child will be better off if they do what it takes to get them there themselves, rather than sending them away with “strangers.” What these parents don’t realize is that many times these “feelings” are more of a way to help them rationalize and make an already difficult decision a little easier for them. This is very normal and understandable. As a parent, there is nothing harder than having to make the difficult decision of “letting go” and having to trust others with their child. Having to include “strangers” in this decision is even more difficult. As a parent it is in our nature to nurture, to be the ones that make things right and work for our children. Having to send a child to program is hard enough for most parents, but also having to resort to trusting someone else to take them there is even harder.
Let me explain a little more about the patterns that I have observed in transporting adolescents. When parents decide to take their child to a program, it is usually a less than ideal situation. The child typically doesn’t know where he/she is going and if he/she does, typically does not agree to it. Usually there is some form of “deception or lie” in getting the child to go at all. In most cases, this deception has to continue until that child arrives at the program. The child has no time to adjust or accept the fact that he/she is there to stay. Parents leave shortly after arrival, and the child is left at the programs doorstep so to speak. The feeling of having been betrayed is much greater with no time to adjust before getting to program. Is it any wonder the child has a difficult time adjusting and integrating into program quickly?
Here is another scenario of parents taking their child to program. The parents are up front and tell the child the truth that he/she is going to a program. Now they have to face the “tug of war” or “roller coaster ride” all the way to program. A child in this scenario often believes there is a chance to change his/her parents’ minds, or at least work them over by trying to make them feel as guilty as possible. This creates tension for both the parents and child because the child has not fully accepted the fact that he/she is going to have to go to and stay in the program. It becomes a real “energy drain” at best, and often the child does not realize he/she is even fighting acceptance. This “fight” can be physical and/or emotional. In this scenario, the child has an even harder time integrating into program.
In both of the above scenarios, the parents typically stress more, often wondering if they can even pull it all off. The thought of having to possibly abort the plan somewhere before or during transport because the child refuses or runs away, sometimes becomes reality. In either scenario, the child and parents have a harder time with the transport and the child then has a harder time integrating into program smoothly.
When agents from a competent transport company escort a child to his/her program, the transport is less traumatic during actual transport. Here is a different scenario. Agents arrive at the time of intervention and parents’ roles are to lend credibility to why the agents are there, say goodbye and then leave the room. The least stressful tactic is to stay out of sight until the child is in the car. The “pickup” is usually the most stressful time and the child might take that opportunity to get their last cutting word or verbal jab in to the parents. When the child is with the agents, the dynamics are much different than if they would be with parents present. The negative parent/ child interactions are not there. Agents generally take control quickly and begin preparing the child for where they are going. The child accepts much quicker that he/she is going and knows that that there is not going to be a last minute way out. The child typically integrates into the program much smoother and quicker.
Another reason why a professional, competent transport agent is a good way to go is the dynamics between child and parent are usually much different than those between child and someone outside the family. I have often heard parents say they are struggling with their child within the family, but non-related people think the child is just great. Interestingly the child rarely if ever “acts out” with others or with “authority figures.” This is not unusual. Rather than battling the constant “roller coaster ride” or “tug of war” a parent might face during transport, agents rarely see that type of scenario, and if they do it generally is short lived.
As transport agents, we are actually the child’s first interaction with “being in a program” and healthy redirection and choices. This translates into a smoother transition when the child arrives at program. We become part of the therapeutic process versus just a service that transports a child from point A to point B. As transport agents, we are all an integral part of the picture and not just a detached part of the process. A competent transport agent should never resort to lies and deception in getting a child to program. Lies and deception have to be undone and are not conducive to smooth transitions. However, telling all the truth at once isn’t the right thing to do either. Honesty in the right amount at the right time goes a long way in getting a child ready for the program to which he/she is going to. It is not beneficial to the child and/or the program to add more to a child during transport, which then has to be undone at the program. The goal is to get a child to the program in the best emotional condition possible and not just to get them there.
It is my hope this essay helps shed some light on this often very difficult decision and some of the dynamics involved.
I have heard many of the pros and cons of law enforcement training for adolescent transports throughout my 13 years in the business. I have heard everything from “using law enforcement trained agents is the only way to go when transporting adolescents” to, “I don’t think children should be treated as criminals, and cops tend to treat kids coldly and like criminals when they do transports.” Of course you can always find an example to back ones view of the above statements, but both statements are false and greatly generalized.
Two things have to be realized. First, who the agents are makes the difference between a successful transport and one that fails miserably. Second, just getting a child from point A to point B, is not the main goal in a successful transport. Getting there and getting there in the best emotional frame of mind are two different things altogether. A child who arrives in the best frame of mind possible is better equipped to accept and deal with what’s ahead.
The agents training, background and ability are vital and play an important role from the moment the agents meet the family before the transport, to the child’s arrival at the desired destination and orientation into the program or school. Some people are “naturals” at working with “at-risk” adolescents. It takes a special person with understanding and insight to work with adolescents who are experiencing a potentially fearful and/ or traumatic time. It is critical for agents to have the ability to successfully communicate in such a situation. Ninety percent of what it takes to have a smooth transport is effective communication, which includes the ability to “read” a child, the situations at hand and the ever changing surroundings during the transport. The right words said at the right time can turn a transport around and make all the difference, however, the opposite is also true.
Not everyone with law enforcement training is a “natural” at working with adolescents, nor does it necessarily make them a good police officer. When working with adolescents in this type of situation, there is virtually no type of background experience that creates an “automatic in.” Although a law enforcement background and experience doesn’t make the transport agent or transport successful, it can be a great asset. First and foremost, if the transport agent has the communication skills and experience to work with adolescents in a non threatening way, it can be a valuable tool.
Why law enforcement? These individuals have the training and ability to deal with a variety of situations that may arise. They know how to offer suggestions and solutions that others may not understand or have the knowledge to resolve. They have an understanding of both the civilian and law enforcement communities. Any competent transport agent should have the ability to keep complications to a minimum, but it is comforting to know these extra resources are working for the family and child.
In my experience this training is valuable in diverse situations because it provides the depth, understanding and experience needed to handle a transport that is not going as planned. In situations where others with less experience have been flustered and made the wrong decisions, agents with a law enforcement background tend to maintain a clear head and sense of calm, regardless of what is going on around them. Law enforcement trained individuals generally have dealt with situations involving high stress and quick accurate decision making, on a much more complex level than would be encountered on a teen transport. When dealing with the law enforcement community, in the rare cases that it becomes necessary, there is a clear advantage to having agents with this additional experience. I have personally seen how their training can open doors that would normally remain shut or at best put a significant glitch into a transport.
When faced with hiring or working with agents who exhibit equal communication skills, one with and one without a law enforcement background, my clear choice would be the individual with the law enforcement background and training. It is that extra depth of training and assurance, not the “cop,” that we may just need to draw on from time to time. As for myself, I would rather have this background experience available to me and not need it, than need it and not have it in my transport work. For the transport agency, family and child, it is another asset that can be valuable in bringing the added safety and assurance to families who are already dealing with a stressful situation.