Granting his wish to be a regular kid: Child welfare reform in Colorado offers hope to a teenager with ambition
Austin Strauser is scarfing down his second sandwich. Sporting a stripe-pattern hoodie that has earphones for drawstrings, he looks like a typical 13-year-old boy about to experience a major growth spurt. But when he speaks, he sounds so much older – almost too seasoned for his age.
“All I’ve ever wanted throughout my whole life is to be a regular kid, not someone that people are afraid of,” says the Fort Collins, Colo., seventh-grader.
A bright kid, Austin nevertheless had been segregated from other students at school, whether in special-education classes or holed up at a day-treatment center, because of an inability to control his anger. If another student called Austin “stupid” or otherwise set him off, Austin would act before thinking and lash out at that student – only making matters worse.
The Larimer County Division of Children, Youth and Families received Austin’s case as a referral from juvenile court. A magistrate wanted to place the boy in a residential-treatment center, separating him from his mother and baby brother. But his mother, Jody Trujillo, believed Austin would fare much better at home – and the child welfare system agreed wholeheartedly, persuading the court to keep the family safely together while delivering a variety of in-home services, some quite unorthodox.
Rather than spending precious federal child welfare dollars to maintain Austin in a costly group-home setting, Larimer County took a close look at Austin’s needs and invested wisely in addressing them. The county provided family therapy, enrolled Austin in martial-arts classes to teach him the socialization skills and self-discipline he sorely lacked, and even purchased a special light for his bedroom to treat his seasonal affective disorder.
The impact on Austin has been substantial. “I had a very short temper but now my fuse runs all the way to New York,” he says. “They’ve taught me how to control my anger and what I think about, and also to control peer pressure. That’s helped a lot.”