“They want someone to listen to them and understand what they have been through”: Lambert looks back on his work with adolescents in detention for more than 20 years

June 9, 2021

Cynthia Lambert pulls off one of the hand-drawn illustrations from her office wall and looks at it thoughtfully. She turns it over and reads the message on the back.

“Cynthia: I want to thank you for being a positive role model, great support and someone I can trust to open up and to count on. Without you giving me good ideas and methods of adaptation, I would have been lost, ”we read. “But you never gave up on me, you never judged me, thank you very much.”

“That’s what I like the most,” Lambert says. “When the kids I’ve worked with for a very long time leave me stuff to say thank you or goodbye.”

Since working as a juvenile court counselor and adolescent mental health consultant leading a high school youth group, Lambert has been dedicated to meeting the needs of children no matter what their circumstances. These days, Lambert is a program supervisor, working with mental health consultants within the justice system.

Lambert has focused at least half of her 21-year career in Multnomah County on improving the mental health of children in detention, an issue she says is often overlooked by those not directly involved in various parts of the world. judicial system.

“Mental illness is real, it’s something we don’t often talk about and worth discussing, like any form of physical health,” she says.

From an early age, Lambert’s greatest role model was his mother, who worked as a foster parent in an emergency shelter for 30 years. Growing up, she observed her mother’s selflessness every day. Lambert recalls that she frequently opened her home to children, many of whom were very young or babies born into drug addicts.

“The way she took care of the babies and children who came to her house was amazing because they weren’t her children and she looked after them as if they were her own,” Lambert says.

Her mother’s dedication and care to the children she brought home motivated Lambert to work with the children herself.

“I inherited that from her,” she said.

Lambert started in the Multnomah County Community Justice Department in 1999 as a juvenile justice counselor and child care specialist, helping families cope with short and long term needs after a minor arrest.

The work was demanding but rewarding. Lambert recalls long days when she spent countless hours meeting with members of the client’s support system to plan the case and provide services.

“I am truly grateful and have the utmost respect for the juvenile detention service staff here because not only do I personally know what it is like to be in this role and I know the challenges you can face. cope while doing this job, but because a lot of what i have to do [now] depends on what they bring me, ”she said.

Even while working at DCJ, Lambert wanted to work on the mental health side of juvenile detention to address the psychological needs of children who may have been brought up in difficult circumstances and are facing trauma.

“It didn’t just start with them. It started with their parents or other people around them, ”she says. “A lot of the kids I’ve worked with have been in environments where someone might have cared about them, but they were too preoccupied with their own issues and issues to provide the things the young people would have may have needed at that time. You cannot pour into an empty cup.

Finally, in 2011, she started working for the Multnomah County Health Department as a mental health consultant, where she regularly assisted youth in detention.

In addition to the challenges the youth faced on the outside that led them to detention, maintaining mental health is just as crucial to the youth Lambert served due to the changes they face once they get there. justice is involved. Lambert describes it as a time of limbo and says it can be difficult to cope with at such a young age.

“They face a lot of things emotionally. They are far from their family, from their friends, ”she says. “They just want to go home. “

In such an anxious and uncertain time, mental health consultants like Lambert provide much-needed support. Mental Health Counseling at Multnomah County Juvenile Detention Home (JDH) includes everything from one-on-one and group meetings to suicide watch assessments.

“They want someone to listen to them and understand what they’ve been through,” she says.

While working as a mental health consultant, Lambert never pushed her clients to open up, simply lending an ear and being a non-judgmental figure.

“Often it’s just a matter of listening and acknowledging their difficulties. And then trying to give them hope that things will improve, ”she said.

Eric Williams, a corrections health manager who has worked with Lambert for nearly 20 years, says Lambert embodies the characteristics needed to be a good counselor and work with youth in custody.

“She knows how to listen and she empowers her peers. In our work it is important to be optimistic and she has a great sense of humor. And of course, she’s really passionate and cares about work, ”he says.

Williams adds that Lambert has the enormous ability to see the nuances of his role and balance empathy with frankness while working with young people.

“When you work in mental health, the job is often gray – it’s not necessarily black and white – so you have to have the instinct to, for example, identify someone who might be in an acute crisis,” says- he.

Since the start of the year, Lambert has been a supervisor where she supervises mental health consultants at Inverness Prison and JDH. Its responsibilities vary; every day, Lambert can be found guiding and supporting his staff, creating treatment plans for patients in detention, or even deciding whether patients should be sent to a hospital for treatment.

Outside of Multnomah County, Lambert is a member of Zeta Phi Beta, a sorority made up of African-American women with a college education and primarily focused on community service. Lambert extends her dedication to serving youth through the sorority, as a counselor to a group of teenage girls.

This year, Lambert co-led several workshops for the group where she taught healthy relationships and leadership skills. She also oversaw several fundraisers organized by the homeless group, including one where members of the youth group filled what they called “bags of hope” which included essential items such as masks and toiletries.

Lambert hopes that through her commitment to youth, she has been able to “take over” from her mother to continue serving families struggling with poverty, substance use disorders and a host of other issues. . For Lambert, it ultimately stems from an innate desire to see people improve.

“I really love seeing people living healthy, fulfilling lives, and I don’t want to see young people living in fear or hearing that they will never be loved or appreciated in this world,” she says.

“I hope if they meet me, no matter how long, they feel like someone has taken the time to care.”


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