At 12 years old, Christopher Gaskin basically stopped going to school. The turmoil in his life had become too much.
He couldn’t care about learning when he feared for the safety of his sister, mother and grandmother. Christopher, too, feared his mother’s estranged boyfriend, whose violent and abusive behavior had terrorized the family, and who continued to threaten them. And so, Christopher withdrew into the house – and into himself.
As a result, Christopher missed two and half years of school, starting in mid-2005. Because of his chronic truancy, he came before the Wayne County Juvenile Court in 2008.
His mother Caroline pleaded with the Judge. “My son is not a bad kid,” she said. “It’s just that life has dealt him bad circumstances.”
The Court sent Christopher to a residential treatment program run by Wolverine Human Services about a hundred miles north of Detroit.
Nine months later, Christopher returned and was placed in the community-based Juvenile Justice program at Southwest Counseling Solutions. As part of this program, the Gaskin family received Wraparound services, which engage family members, service providers, school personnel and others in a process of coordinated care.
“Together, we identify needs, strengths, goals and supports to create a plan for success that is tailored for the particular youth and family,” says Anthony Graham, who is the Wraparound counselor for Christopher.
The plan is already working well. Anthony and another Southwest counselor, Tamara Stramler-Hixon, have been working with teachers and others at Southwestern High School to help Christopher get tutoring and resources to address his special learning needs.
Christopher is now pulling A’s and B’s in his core classes. “I’m doing all my assignments,” Christopher says. “I want to learn and it comes easy to me. Not like before, when I couldn’t focus and would get frustrated with the work.”
“The Wraparound program takes a lot of the stress off of us,” Caroline says. “My son knows that he has a good support system, and he has become a different person. It used to be that he lived in a shell and wouldn’t express himself. Now he has a sense of confidence, self-respect and enthusiasm. As a parent, you can’t ask for more.”
Recognizing that the Wraparound program has made a significant difference in Christopher’s life, the Judge in his case extended his probation at a recent hearing so that the services would continue.
Christopher will turn 17 in May. He is a sophomore at Southwestern and is now determined to go to college. “There are lots of pressures that can keep you from reaching your goals,” he says. “But I always repeat to myself: I am not under their influence – I am above their influence.”
Caroline says that the situation with the ex-boyfriend is largely under control. She adds that her daughter, too, is now turning her life around. Kendra, 21, receives therapy at Southwest Counseling. She has completed her GED and now works part-time, taking three busses to get to and from her job in the suburbs. She wants to go to college and study to become a patient-care technician.
“My kids have come a long way from the tragedy and fear they experienced,” Caroline says. “We still have hard challenges, especially since I lost my job and we struggle to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But we also have hope that things will get better.”