Probation Hosts Thanksgiving for Detained Youth and Families


From County News Center

The holidays can be a difficult time for justice-involved youth and their families when they can’t celebrate at home. But San Diego County Probation strives to keep families together at these times.

“It’s part of trying to facilitate engagement with the families. The kids need the support and interactions with their families, so they can be better and do better,” said Supervising Probation Officer Tyra Myles, who works with youth at the Girls Rehabilitation Facility, which is part of the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility

She said Probation staff try to offer homelike opportunities whenever possible because the ultimate goal is to rehabilitate and help youth heal.

The Girls Rehabilitation Facility program serves up to 25 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 ½ and provides an individualized plan to modify behavior patterns and attitudes. One 16-year-old girl, there for the first time, said she didn’t know what to expect for the holiday.

But days before, joined other girls and worked with volunteers from the County’s Master Gardener Association to create small floral arrangements using gourds and flowers from the site’s garden.  Some of the girls also worked with Probation staff to prepare macaroni and cheese and a sweet potato casserole to complement the traditional meal, Myles said.

Then on Thanksgiving, as family members arrived they were greeted by a handmade Happy Thanksgiving turkey sign and tables set for the holiday meal.

The girl said her family was completely surprised because they expected it to be a regular visit.

“All the tables were decorated and there were little turkey napkins which my parents loved, and the food was delicious. All the staff served the food,” said the girl, whose name is withheld for privacy. “We were all sitting together. We had a lot of fun. It wasn’t like we were locked up. It felt like we were having Thanksgiving with our parents.”

Almost all of the girls had family that were able to come. The few that didn’t have guests were included in other family conversations so they did not feel left out, said Myles. Seven Probation officers, who helped plan and coordinate the meal, and the facility psychologist also spent time with families during the event.

Probation staff took pictures of the girls with their families at the beginning of the meal and printed them out to put in a Thanksgiving frame for a keepsake of the day.

“The gratitude was palpable. Many families shared their appreciation,” Myles said.

Probation got a unique visual thank you from one girl’s mom who lacked any pens and paper. That didn’t stop her from ripping up a paper napkin into the words, “Thank you all” at her place at the table, Myles said.

Boys in the Urban Camp program at Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility celebrated Thanksgiving by serving desserts and hot cocoa for the youth and visitors. Two other units at the facility had Thanksgiving meals for the youth and their families in the facility the day prior.