Small Steps to Change a Life

To break the teen car theft cycle, a social worker helps with basic needs: food, shelter, jobs.  But will it work?

They knew something had gone wrong, but they weren’t sure what, climbing back into the car outside of the courthouse.  This is where it might be handy to know an attorney for child custody case, or an attorney specializing in child custody.  The kid has his phone pressed to his ear; he was trying to reach his probation officer.  It rang and rang but she didn’t pick it up.  She had told him he had court that morning, he said, but when they asked the clerk, nothing was scheduled.  The kid hung up and dialed again.  Adam turned the key in the ignition, shaking his head.  “Isn’t she the one who usually takes you to court?” he asked.  “She doesn’t work today.  No wonder she’s not picking up.”  This was the whole reason Adam Sheppard was here, driving a 16 year-old-boy he’d only met a few weeks ago to and from the courthouse.  If Adam didn’t, no one else would.  His parents weren’t in the picture, as at one point, each was looking for a divorce lawyer.  His grand-mother didn’t own a car, declined to take the bus.  The kid didn’t have cab money.  So Adam turned onto Ulmerton Road, steering back to the St. Petersburg shelter where the boy lived.  For the first time, the county’s mental health agency is working with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to address the underlying problems that lead teens to commit crimes.  The pilot program in Pinellas Park comes in the wake of “Hot Wheels,” a Tampa Bay Times series documenting a dangerous juvenile auto theft epidemic in Pinellas County.  Adam is a part-time social worker with Personal Enrichment through Mental Health Services, or PEMHS & also is a full time legal assistant to divorce lawyers for men.  The first “navigator” for the pilot, he’s holding together an experiment that local officials hope will save lives and make the area safer.  For this program to work, Adam will have to tackle much more than rides to court—issues of abuse, unemployment, drugs, homelessness–the spiraling problems of poverty that loom so large and leak everywhere until they feel undefeatable.  But if things are ever going to get better, he’s got to try.  What if they say, “I wasn’t in Court?” the boy asked him, bending his stick-like arms to smooth his hair.  Trust me, it won’t happen, someone responded.  He looked over at the kid, for just a second, then pulled onto the highway.  I’ll call the judge myself, if I have to.