I expect that by now many who follow Facebook and other forms of social media may have seen the video of the little 2-year old boy, Kayden Kinckle, posted in July 2014 as he learned to walk on his new prosthetic legs. Most of us smiled and laughed as we watched Kayden figure out how to balance behind his pint-sized walker with a woman behind him encouraging him and making sure that he didn’t fall. She asks “You got it?” and he quickly replies repeatedly with each step he takes in a high-pitched toddler voice “I got it . . . I got it . . . I GOT it!”
As much as that video warmed my heart, I simultaneously was struck with the sad recognition that the sympathy and support that Kayden has is needed by so many kids but unfortunately is not available to them. All kids need a caring adult standing behind them, coaching them, making sure they don’t fall, or when they do helping them to get back up. But many don’t have one. And this isn’t just for toddlers, it is critical for all young people at least until they reach full development and are able to successfully manage life on their own.
Kayden is lucky to have a caring, nurturing and responsible adult standing behind him to meet his needs and who is cheering him on. But the reality is that many kids, especially those who end up in court, are not this fortunate. When kids show up in family or juvenile court, whether due to abuse or neglect committed against them by a caretaker, or because they have misbehaved, they in many ways are similar to Kayden. You may not see the physical impact of their circumstances, but they are often recovering from non-visible emotional scars and similarly are in need of love, support and coaching.
It is easy to have compassion for little Kayden, and even root for him to succeed, but we need similar empathy for system-involved kids, even when they are acting out inappropriately in response to unknown and unseen trauma. Rather than judge and punish based solely on their negative behavior, we should view them as having a hurdle that needs to be better appreciated and then addressed. Our response to court-involved youth should be similar to our reaction to Kayden – we should try to understand their hurt and then help them to overcome any challenges so that they too can smile and rejoice “I got it!”
Tanya Washington is a social justice advocate who seeks better outcomes for vulnerable youth/ Join the discussion at justicecorner.com
Follow Tanya on Twitter: @twashesq