The kids are alright: Meet Dartmouth’s new Youth Advocate

Dec 20, 2020

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Now, somebody is: Deloris Joseph has taken up the town's long-vacant position of youth advocate this week after the job was funded at last Spring Town Meeting.

Dartmouth’s youth advocate works to support young people in vulnerable situations, such as abuse victims or those whose families are affected by issues like addiction, homelessness and poverty.

Due in part to questions about the youth advocate’s role, the town has gone without one for nearly two years, since Jennifer Cabral left in January 2019.

And with children and families in need this year more than ever due to the pandemic, Joseph seems like she’s up for the challenge — with plenty of ideas for programs and collaboration with neighboring towns.

“It’s good getting back in the community and getting my hands dirty, so to speak,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just excited about the possibilities!”

Joseph has an extensive background in advocacy and social services, with nearly 25 years working with children and families in Georgia and Massachusetts as well as stints with the American Red Cross in Turkey and at a rape crisis center in New Mexico.

She has also worked in schools doing advocacy and intervention work with low-income families, helping children with social-emotional disabilities, and helping adults find educational programs or job training as part of ready-for-work programs.

When asked whether the work can be emotionally draining, she paused.

“It can be,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ve taken some little breaks, because you can get burnt out...I’ve learned a lot about self care.”

But the New Bedford resident is already brimming with excitement about getting started, laughing, “My calendar’s already getting full!”

In the first four days of the job, Joseph has been building contacts both in and outside town, with a view to collaborating and communicating with services all over the South Coast.

“I don't want to limit it to just the resources we have in Dartmouth,” she said. “I think there’s a possibility for the youth advocate to do so much more...I have a lot of big ideas!”

For one, Joseph said she’d love to look at bringing the “Blessings in a Backpack” program — which helps students with food insecurity — to Dartmouth Public Schools. 

Another longer-term project she has in mind is starting school peer groups for students to help each other recognize and deal with issues like cyberbullying and adolescent domestic violence.

Part of the project would include training students — “All students, not just the ones with perfect attendance or the best grades,” she explained — to be peer leaders.

“That is something that I personally have been thinking about for years, that I would love to see,” she said.

As for the youth advocate role itself, she noted, although the pandemic has created more of a need for services, that need has always existed.

“In New Bedford, Dartmouth is perceived as this perfect town,” she said. “No town is perfect. There’s a lot of need here, but it’s undercover, and people don’t want to talk about it. It’s just underrepresented.”

“The struggle is trying to open up those doors and making it so that it’s okay for you to say ‘We need help’ without there being a stigma attached,” she added.