Week 6:
More Residents, More Stress


Arthur Vining Davis Fellow in Adolescent Psychology

Linn County Juvenile Detention Center | Cedar Rapids, Iowa

October 7, 2018

This week has proven to be the most stressful week yet. Now that I have most of the skills and knowledge to successfully do my job as a youth counselor, the work should be less stressful and the shifts should go smoother. Of course, this means I needed another challenge thrown my way. Over the past week and a half, surrounding counties have been overflowing with residents, and we have had no choice but to take in those overflow youths. This means the Linn County Center is currently housing more Polk and Scott County adolescents than Linn ones. This poses two challenges to our staff. The first is an unfamiliarity with Polk and Scott County Detention processes and procedures. These youth are coming from relatively unknown territory, which makes it harder to predict how well they will adapt to our program. The second is we have hit our “soft cap” and above. Linn County is actually licensed to house 35 beds for youth, and out soft cap is 21. The soft cap works to keep staff from being overwhelmed and to prevent other counties taking advantage of our program and filling our beds first. Currently, however, we are running at 25-26 full beds. The stress is nearly tangible in the air as staff are forced into mandatory overtime, some of which includes working double shifts (7:30am-11pm!).

In One Day I Collected Data on 10 New Residents
In One Day I Collected Data on 10 New Residents

I am not immune to this stress either. With every pod full, and then some, there are a lot of demands on us as youth counselors, and as the intern I have become a personal floater for much  of the staff. This means being called away from my pod assignment more frequently to assist other staff with their needs. It has been a lot of running around this past week, and I find myself more exhausted than usual. While the increased number of youth means I have rapidly neared my goal of 50 youth data points, it is also concerning how many new teenagers are in the system. On top of the physical toll, there is an added mental stress. It is increasingly difficult to manage 7 criminal teenagers at a time, who all need or want something at the same time that I have to manage, in addition to keeping an eye and ear on all activities, interactions, and conversations to ensure they remain appropriate.

Our News Bulletin Stays Full with Updates on New Residents and Staff Reminders
Our News Bulletin Stays Full with Updates on New Residents and Staff Reminders

Despite this added stress, I find myself thriving on the challenge. Cornell has more than prepared me for this intense, on-the-go multitasking. Classes and extra-curriculars mandate being able to manage time effectively, and completing homework while running a meeting or taking notes in class has become a second nature skill for me. Additionally, the structure of most class environments as discussion based has honed my ability to listen to multiple voices and process what they are saying at the same time that I am focused on another task. The fast-paced and sometimes hectic nature of the Cornell schedule has more than prepared me with all the tools I need to get by in these strenuous times at the Center. While it’s not easy by any means, I am confident that I am doing the best possible job at keeping up and doing my job effectively thanks to what Cornell has given me by way of multitasking skills.

Jamie Rhoads