I was chatting with a colleague of mine the other day about the work we do. He is a case manager for a state department that works with adjudicated youth. I work with and live with kids who come from very challenging situations. We were commenting that people outside of our world would have a hard time believing some of the stuff we deal with everyday. Kids who are considered sex offenders before they’re 18, kids who’d rather get locked up than go home, kids who are suicidal, kids without goals and aspirations, kids so used to failure and so afraid of success they sabotage any achievement, kids caught up with gangs because it’s the only place they feel accepted and cared for, or kids who perp other kids because it’s what they know. How do you explain the balancing act between holding someone accountable and pushing a little, with the worry it might have been too much and you’ve pushed them over the edge? How do you describe the feelings you have while you watch a young person escorted out of your building in shackles—wrists, ankles, and waist?
I’m a big fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and go back to that model when working with our challenging kids. How can we expect any other type of behavior from our kids when their basic needs of food, shelter, and safety haven’t been met? Sometimes what we see as “behavior problems” are really just survival skills.
We, as a society, are failing our kids. How do we break the cycle? I admire the work my colleague does—he treats his clients with dignity, respect and expectation. I admire the work my staff does—they provide a nurturing environment of acceptance, expectation, accountability, and belonging. Our influence is limited and time sensitive. We have to push a little harder sometimes and hope the safety nets we set up aren’t shredded.