In Case You Missed It: Probation Provides a Safety Net for Youth & Adults in Need
California Probation continues to be a leader of change in the justice system across our nation.
Without the teamwork of probation and an unwavering lawyer, Meritsa Sedillo would still be sleeping on hard rubber flooring beneath a play structure in an East Bay elementary schoolyard. As she neared 18, and with no parents or legal guardians, four child welfare social workers saying they could do nothing for her, Meritsa was terrified, alone, and abandoned without hope.
Read her story below, as featured in Catching Charges to Get Foster Care’s Help, from The Chronicle of Social Change. Most fear the criminal justice system, but in Meritsa’s case, “she had to turn to the criminal justice system for help”.
In California, under Assembly Bill 12, benefits are provided to eligible young people who are not in foster care, but who turn 18 while in the juvenile justice system. Meritsa had never been arrested, but under an antiquated provision of the penal code established in 1937, she was able to be adjudicated for “habitual disobedience.” Merista’s representation worked with a placement supervisor in the county Probation Department to achieve the unthinkable – they got the deputy district attorney handling truancy cases to file charges.
“Meritsa said she knew the implications for having a juvenile delinquency history, no matter how minor, and that it might make it hard for her to get a job. But she was assured her records would be sealed when she was 18.”
“Regardless of being a juvenile delinquent, I was so happy,” she said. “On my birthday, my probation officer came into court with my birth certificate, and my whole perception of life changed in that week, my whole view on everything completely changed. I thought, I’m not going to be living in a car, I’m not going to be hungry for days, I’m not going to be sleeping at school.”
Meritsa became eligible for extended foster care, a week before she turned 18.
“With that, I knew I was going to get the benefits, so I was happy,” she said. “Usually no one’s going to walk out of that court going, ‘Yes! I’m a juvenile delinquent! I’m a ward of the court!’ But I knew after age 18 I would have the benefits of AB 12, I’d have housing, I’d get my own room for the first time in a year. I knew I was going to get a small check, and at that point, any money would help.”
Meritsa has had a full-time job at Starbucks and even bought her first car. With the foster care providing her an additional $1,000 monthly payment known as a Supervised Independent Living Payment, she has used the money towards rent in a home which is pre-approved with health and safety standards by her probation officer.
“These days, Meritsa is contemplating what her next step will be — either going to college to study criminal justice or marine biology, or enlisting in the Navy.”
It is stories like this that show where probation has been able to provide a safety net for youths and adults in need across our state. California Probation continues to be a leader of change in the justice system across our nation.
Read the full article here: The Chronicle of Social Change: Catching Charges to Get Foster Care’s Help