One of the biggest surprises of motherhood, Linnea Anderson, Juvenile Court Administrator, said was realizing that when either her young children were hurt or crying, she herself felt physical pain.
Parenthood, Anderson added, is about survival, trying to get through each day hoping the children will be safe in their beds at the end of it.
“You will never know fear until you become a parent,” she said.
Through her work with at-risk children, she has seen some of those fears come to fruition. Her twenties were spent with the most challenging beyond at risk children in the state of Washington, through a program her Evergreen college professor put together. The program used a principle called participation research to educate “hardcore” juvenile delinquents.
Participation research operates on the premise that teachers and students are partners in education. The teacher is not the keeper of knowledge, but more of a moderator and guides through the child’s learning.
“We worked with the youth to find out who they were and provided a structure and venue,” she explained, adding that a high percentage of the youth were minorities, isolated from standard education not only because they were in an institution, but because even before being detained, standard education was not generally for them. Along those lines, a primary focus for that program was cultural studies.
After graduating, her professor retired and Anderson became the executive director. She and her partner( ?) began designing activities for the mostly boys. One activity was a game where each teen was given an empty balloon. The participant blew up the balloon, then let the air out – raced to where the dead balloon fell, blew it up again, chased it again until they reached the finish line. The youth loved the game, Anderson said, laughed, were silly and playful, acting like children for probably the first time in their lives. Parents in attendance frequently told her it was the first time they saw their child smile, let alone laugh.
“There is something powerful in each of us,” Anderson said, “Each of us has a gift. We just have to figure out what that is.”
This is still her goal today, helping at-risk juveniles figure out who they are and make better decisions.
She came to San Juan Island through meeting former juvenile court administrator Tom Kearney when he called her office looking for a San Juan County boy that had been placed in a state facility. Years later, he called her again, to let her know there was a position available in his office. She applied and obviously got the job.
“San Juan is such a special place,” she said, “I have never experienced a community that cares so much about its young people.”
For parents concerned their child might be exhibiting at-risk behavior, Anderson encourages them to come to her office.
“We offer free services, and are non-judgemental,” she said. Anderson still operates on the participation research model, explaining the first time a struggling family comes in, staff will warn them “we are going to throw a bunch of bad ideas out there, but if something begins to resonate with you, let us know.”
She continued, explaining that what works for one family will not work for another and that the family is the experts. They know who they are, what they want and need.
She also encourages parents to breathe and be kind to themselves.
“It’s hard work,” she said, “Being a parent is a difficult path. I’m not a perfect mom, I don’t have all the answers. But, I am willing to join with other parents to try to figure it out.”