This past August I celebrated 17 years of assisting families and escorting teens, escorting well over 2,000 kids from all over the world. In that time I have seen and done so much, picking up kids from every state in this great country, as well as Canada, Mexico, Australia, Greece and the United Kingdom. I have been the director and trainer of one the largest escort company in the country. Over the years I have met some great kids. I have seen a child I escorted three times go on to Duke University and then go back to the school to which I escorted her to teach. I have seen so many go on to great things and now have families of their own.
But not all the kids I have picked up smelled like roses. I have been punched, kicked, bitten and had knives and a gun pulled on me. I have been hit with more things then I would care to count and been called things that would make a sailor run out of the room. I have posed as a "John" to get a 16 year old runaway who was prostituting and I have lost count on how many times I have gone into a crack house to get the kid I'm looking for. For years I have picked up the kids that other companies would not. I did the things that others said could not be done and I have never lost or had a child get away, and all within the guidelins of the law.
I have seen a lot of things change over the years. In the 90's and early 2000's, none of the kids I picked up had ever heard of wilderness programs. Now they all have! Either they have had a brother, friend or classmate who has gone or they have read about it on a blog, twitter, Facebook, Myspace or one of the thousands of websites out there. I find myself spending more time defending these programs to kids and parents than explaining them. One other big change I have seen are the amount of medication these kids are prescribed. It used to be that about 1 in 10 would be on one kind of medication. But now it seems like every kid I pick up is on some kind of medication and most are on 2 to 3. What is this all about? Are we not just raising a generation of druggies?
There are a few things that I am not willing to change. First, I will never wear a uniform. I feel this promotes fear and can be very embarrassing for the child when we are in public. I know some say that it promotes respect. But I know for a fact that sitting down and talking to the child, explaining what is going on, showing some compassion and caring about how they are feeling and listening to what they have to say, gets a lot more respect then what I'm wearing.
I always take as much time as is needed to get the child to walk out of the room on their own, instead of saying "get up and let's go" after 15 to 30 minute. I don't care if it takes me two hours and I miss my flight. We are not walking out until I feel he or she is ready. I have spent two to four hours at a time on the phone calming jittery nerves of parents. I have taken calls at 2:00 am from parents that just can't sleep and spent two hours talking to them about nothing. I have talked to the scared siblings to let them know that everything is going to be ok. And I will always treat every child as if they were my own and every parent and family the way I would want to be treated.
Over the years I have seen escort companies come and go. I have seen claims made like it is something new when it's something I've been doing for years. There are claims of 20 years experience, but only if you add up all ten people working. If they want to do that, my wife and I have 32 years. There are some who claim that on every escort the lead agent has at least two years of training. But there have been a few times I have met other escorts while waiting for our kids to come out of wilderness where neither has more than five escorts under their belt.
Since when has it become common practice to send one agent to pick up a child or only have one fly with them? Who watches the child when they have to check in the rental car or the airlines or when you have to go though security? What if the agent has to go to the bathroom and if you have to change plane, and what if the agent that is going on the plane is the one agent the child does not like? How good of a trip is it going to be for the child? I know they say it saves money, but their fee is still the same if they sent one or two agents. So tell me, is it worth a plane ticket to insure the child's safety and the safety on the public?
Over the past 17 years I have seen the world and a lot of things change, some for the best and some for the worst. I have met a lot of great kids and families who still send me updates and I get cards from time to time from the parents and kids. I hope to God that I may be able to keep doing what I do for another 17 years.
President and Director
First Step Adolescent Services