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Former Boys Town Youth Now Helps Others as Advocate for At-Risk Kids

Sloane provided impactful testimony during a hearing on a federal juvenile justice bill before the House Committee.

​​How does a 12-year-old cope as he struggles with his father’s substance abuse issues and his parents’ separation?

He argues with his parents, challenging their authority. Over time, he escalates his negative behavior, acting out, using alcohol and drugs, and ​getting into brushes with the law. And school becomes a major source of frustration because he’s failing and not learning.

That was Sloane Baxter’s life as he began the steady descent that would ultimately land him in a youth prison.

At 14, Sloane was arrested for attempting to steal a car. He was placed on probation, but repeated probation violations led to his incarceration at Oak Hill Youth Center.

“Oak Hill was a youth prison,” said Lisette Burton, J.D., Director of National Advocacy at Boys Town Washington DC. “It was an awful place with barbed wire; it looked and functioned like a prison for adults. It has since been shut down.”

Sloane spent several months at the center before his caseworker contacted Boys Town Washington DC about a possible placement in the site’s Family H​ome Program. After Boys Town staff visited with Sloane, everyone agreed it would be a good fit.

“Sloane is a very engaging young man,” Burton said. “He adapted quickly to the structure, skill teaching and family-style environment of the program.”

Besides providing a safe, nurturing home for the teen, Sloane’s Family-Teachers® worked with his caseworker, family members and others to place him in a school that better addressed his educational needs.

“This was a very big deal for him because he had not previously experienced any school success,” Burton said. “Once he was in the right environment, he began to thrive in school.”

Sloane also began to develop and pursue other interests that proved beneficial.

“The boys in his Family Home participated in a summer project called ‘Book in Day,’” Burton said. “This taught them the fundamentals of poetry, how to write poems and basic publishing. They created a book of poetry titled ‘Concrete Dreams’ and published it. Having these kinds of experiences, in addition to learning new skills and building relationships at home and in school, helped propel him forward.”

Sloane was 17 when he left Boys Town and moved home, which had greatly improved during his stay. He graduated from high school and later got an apartment of his own. He continued working at Starbucks – a job he started as an afterschool employee while at Boys Town – and eventually earned a promotion to a supervisor position.

“To this day, Sloane still keeps in touch with his Family-Teachers,” Burton said. “He’s on a great path. The big difference for Sloane is he now utilizes the resources around him, and he has well-developed problem-solving and communication skills. He also has a great relationship with both of his parents today.”

Sloane’s life experiences also have made him an ideal advocate for at-risk children.

In October 2015, Boys Town was advocating for a federal juvenile justice bill with the Chairman of the House Committee on Workforce and Education, Congressman John Kline.

“Chairman Kline previously visited Boys Town in Nebraska, and his staff knew young people from Boys Town had given valuable testimony before. They requested a Boys Town youth to speak at a hearing on juvenile justice,” Burton said. “We asked Sloane if he would be willing and he readily agreed. He was still young enough for his experiences to be fresh and relevant but also older and mature enough to be able to independently determine what he wanted to share and how.”

Burton helped Sloane, then 22, shape his story and experiences into his formal testimony to Congress.

During the hearing, Sloane spoke alongside a judge, a vice president of a large nonprofit organization and a leader who advocates for justice reforms. Sloane was asked pointed questions about his experiences and his opinions on juvenile justice issues.

“Sloane’s testimony was fantastic,” Burton said. “He was actually highlighted in Chairman Kline’s comments after the hearing because it was so impactful. Sloane’s testimony about being incarcerated as a young person and then thriving in a family-style, community-based program like Boys Town’s Family Homes had a big impact on the committee – and that impact is ongoing.”

In May 2016, Chairman Kline and his staff, along with ranking-member Congressman Bobby Scott, contacted Boys Town Washington DC to arrange a visit to a Family Home so they could learn more about the residential program and see it in action.

In addition, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently published a Republican Party policy brief called “A Better Way.” One of the policy’s major initiatives is to lift young people out of poverty and onto the ladder of opportunity.

“In this policy agenda, Sloane’s name and story are highlighted as an example of a young person who participated in the right kind of program that led to long-lasting success,” Burton said. “Also, there is a quote from Sloane where he talks about the fact that things could have gone a lot of different if it wasn’t for a place like Boys Town, and that it still serves as a lifeline for him when he needs it.”

Today, Sloane continues his work as an advocate for Boys Town and at-risk children.

“There is an upcoming youth justice symposium that Sloane wants to attend,” Burton said. “He is a great example of someone who benefited from residential care. And because of that, he wants to give back and continue to help those in similar situations.”

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