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Tanya Banks: No Standing on the Sidelines

Tanya Banks
Superintendent, Ferris School

“If you want a rewarding but frustrating job, work with kids,” was the advice Tanya Banks received from one of her professors. It was a challenge that she couldn’t back down from.

Born in Maine, she was raised in Pennsylvania and moved to Delaware accepting a job with the state as a juvenile probation officer some 20 years ago. “I loved my job. I found the work to be challenging, but rewarding. Although kids would make mistakes and violate their conditions of supervision, it only motivated me to build better relationships with kids so that I could understand why they continued to make some of the decisions that they were making.”

Tanya reached a defining point in her career when a client on her caseload was violently murdered in 2001. She’d had a great relationship with the youth, his sibling and family and his death affected her profoundly. “Although I have known several kids since then who have been killed, none were killed in the manner that this youth was. That is a case that still touches me today.” She remembers the family informing her of his passing and asking her to come to the house to support them during the most difficult time in their lives. “When I arrived, the victim’s sibling was with several other young family members and they were discussing retaliating. In that moment, I found myself faced with a choice, intervene or ignore.” The moment changed her forever. She got involved.

 “Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not the best at ignoring," she admits. But it gave her pause about working in juvenile justice. “I knew that I had to make a decision regarding whether this was a career that I wanted to continue to pursue.” Thankfully for many youths, Tanya continued her path helping turn around the lives of young people. Her work at the Ferris School led the facility winning the 2017 PbS Barbara Allen-Hagen Award and for two years in a row, boys at the Ferris School have been the winners of the PbS Kids Got Talent contests. Tanya made a special effort to load up the boys in a van and drive them to Boston in 2019 to put on a surprise live performance at the national awards ceremony.

Tanya advanced from community supervision to secure care and has worked for the state of Delaware, Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services for about 20 years in various roles: assistant superintendent, program manager, treatment specialist supervisor and as a juvenile probation officer and now serving as the superintendent of the Ferris School, the only locked secure facility for adjudicated youths in Delaware. “I’ve learned so much about myself, my staff, and the youth in the secure care setting. It is very rewarding to see a youth’s behavior and thought process change over time from his experience at Ferris School.” In Tanya’s eyes, everybody makes a contribution to achieving this. “The great work and positive interactions of all the staff play a critical role in the youth’s success.” 

Her family is what inspires her and has given her the foundation for working hard. “My mother has influenced me the most. She has been at her job for 37 years and despite many challenges, she continues to persevere. She is hard working and dedicated to her job, but most importantly she is all about family.” Her three sons are her motivation. “They are mini versions of me in every shape and form. It gives me great joy to see them grow and develop and figure out life. They keep me laughing and definitely keep me on my toes.”

So was the professor right? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who loves and appreciates her job more than Tanya ― it’s hard work but rewarding. “Although every day won’t be perfect, it hardly feels like work when you are doing a job that you actually enjoy.” To those who choose this path, she says: “Show up daily and be prepared to make tough decisions and for the backlash that may come with it.” It makes sense that her favorite quote comes from Shirley Chisolm: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” 


About the author

Women's History Month

This story is a part of PbS’ Women’s History Month series, paying homage to all the many amazing women who have led with wisdom, kindness, compassion and bravery to make a difference in the lives of young people across our country. We thank them for sharing their stories and insights with us, and giving their voice to the conversation around juvenile justice.

PbS has been a partner in assisting this facility to become a dynamic work environment that is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo.