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Difficult to manage youngster

2010

I'm in something of a quandary. We are all "into" the relational and "child-friendly" approach to child and youth care and the need to avoid authoritarian and power modes of practice. But I have a new youngster (14, nearly 15) on my group who was, through a police prevention program, referred for truancy, curfew breaking, drug use and some all-night club attendance. From his first day he has wanted to visit his friends, go into the city, attend his clubs ... and we are having to refuse these requests - which has in no way helped us to establish a relationship, in fact he is becoming harder and harder to engage and manage.
 
It's a "rock and a hard place" situation for us. How do we break out of it?
 
Angela M.
...

This sounds like a contest, Angela!  Try a shift in perspective from looking at a "difficult to manage youngster" to "a youngster who behaves in a way that is difficult to manage".  Have a look at some of Sandra Bloom's work; her work would give you much better advice than I could.  All the best to you.
 
Ni Holmes
Scotland
...
 
Hi Angela,
 
One of the approaches we have used that proved helpful was to make sure that at least one staff member is not involved at all in the process of "saying no", and has the sole task of building a relationship and trust with the youngster.  This means that that particular staff member is never present (initially at least) when challenging behaviour is confronted or during difficult encounters with the youth, and specifically seeks out opportunities that does not involve conflict to establish a relationship.
 
It has proven helpful to us in the past where we have two male resident staff who deal with very challenging encounters after hours and assists the other child care workers - one of us would deal with the "disciplinary" side of things, and the other with the therapeutic aspects. Especially when trying to establish a new relationship under challenging circumstances this help - eventually however, in every trust relationship that is established comes a time of caring confrontation - but the relationship comes first.
 
Good luck.
 
Werner van der Westhuizen
SOS Children's Village Port Elizabeth
...
 
Hello,
 
I met a man in England who ran a club for teens. It was a great place to hang out. No booze or drugs allowed; if a teen was under the influence he wasn't allowed in. There were pool tables, games, food, drinks offered.
 
Perhaps trying to meet this teen where he is at, encouraging responsible behaviour while meeting with friends, will be easier than refusing him.

Keeping one step ahead of kids is difficult. I wish you luck!!
 
Laura.
...
 
Hi Angela,
 
My first thought is to connect with him.  Yes he is pissed because he can't do what he has been doing and likes to do.  Reality check, how has that behaviour been working for him so far?!  It got him where he is today and change is always difficult for anyone at any age.  You could appeal to his frustrations and relay that it is a natural consequence and he could choose to make the best of the situation or make it miserable by fighting it.  When youth don't get their way they can tend to be difficult, nature of the game.

Maybe this is their way of getting out of the situation, just a thought. If the workers get pissed off enough then I will get my way, either by leaving this place or they'll give in.  Again just a thought.
 
Realistically you will not know the answers to these question until you make the connection, without connection he will most likely be that much more resistant.
 
Cheers,
 
Kelly House
Substance Use Liaison
...
 
I would first consider your motives.  I would empower him to make his own decision.  I mean it's his anyways.
 
Why do you want him to be or do something different than what he wants to do?
 
You can have a simple conversation with him letting him know that: The purpose of your program is ____________.  Your responsibilities are _________________.  His responsibilities are ______(cooperation with programming, helping to keep everyone in the program safe, conserving all the resources in the facility- not damaging things-, and being considerate to everyone). 
 
If going to all night clubs, going into the city and visiting his friends is not part of the program, then just tell him and then you need to fulfil your own responsibilities such as keeping him safe and creating a meaningful program and perhaps you can suggest a program that matches his needs a little better. That might be jail.
 
But I think you need to get a buy in from him to commit to fulfilling his responsibilities.  They are not difficult to understand and you can keep reminding him of them as he continues with the program.  But always allow him the choice to stay in or leave and educate him about the consequences, as well.
 
Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.
...
 
From: Susan Mosure [mailto:Susan.Mosure@nygh.on.ca]
Sent: 14 January 2010 11:03 PM
 
I am just reading this thinking: Wow!!! this teen is interesting. Notice how everything around him has changed but this teen insists  on continuing their personal pattern - the stuff that led them to this new situation (which really adds continued personal routine) and this teen is struggling for it.

Just a thought: could you not point this out to them supporting the fact that this is actually a strength that when put in the right direction is valuable. Routine could this teen not design his/her own personal routine keeping with the expectations of the program which he/she has been placed.

Allowing that individual a voice and appreciation for their own destiny (outcome).
 
Just a thought
Susan Mosure
...
 
Hi Angela,
 
My experience has been to find appropriate alternative activities the youth can engage in ... try to find out if he has any other interests besides the club scene and if there are activities in which he can participate along with his friends that are more appropriate. This allows you to say "yes" and shows you are trying to meet him half way.  If you give him the opportunity to create a list of things he might enjoy doing, while establishing some criteria, he can choose from his suggestions and it gives him some power in the situation without him having to do something delinquent in order to get power.
 
He may still need some supervision with his friends until he can earn your trust but he can still see his friends who are cool with respecting limits and boundaries ... perhaps suggesting a visit with some of his friends for a pizza dinner.   Acknowledging his desire to hang with his friends as "normal" and your desire to help him choose "healthy, alternatives to drugs and alcohol" as supportive intervention, might help you to establish trust and begin to build a relationship. 
 
He needs to know that boundary setting is also a very important life skill to learn to lead a healthy, productive life and it may take him a while to see this but my experience is the limit setting actually will make him feel more secure over time.  Hope some of this is applicable to your situation.
All the best.
 
Brenda
...

I'm afraid you brought him into care without his understanding of the reason/purpose for his stay with you and with negotiating the rules and expectations of the program. If he was unable to agree to the treatment plan and methods of achievent, I would not have admitted him.
 
You say you are using the relational and "child-friendly" approach to child and youth care and the need to avoid authoritarian and power modes of practice, but that does not preclude you from responsibilities to provide discipline and guidance. You have a responsibility to hold him to healthy, prosocial expectations which the two of you would need to negotiate an understanding of what is safe, healthy or prosocial.
 
Start back at the beginning and see if he is willing to meet your expectations and his goals.
 
Peter Hoag
...

Very well put, Peter.  We have to be real and honest with youth.  I find they prefer that.
 
Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.
...

Another way to look at it is "if the young person was able to meet your expectations, why does he need treatment?"
 
I think asking troubled children/youth to "agree" to meet expectations is a set up for them and for us.  As I understand it, our job in treatment is to provide the skills to enable them to meet expectations AFTER they have been helped.  If they could do what they are asked to do, what is it that we are supposed to be doing to help them?
 
I think it is reasonable to expect that most, if not all, of the children/youth who need our help will be "difficult" in some way.
 
Lorraine Fox
...

My expectations would not be that they "behave" but agree to a mutually agreed upon treatment plan that identifies what is safe and what the agency can provide. When this happens.. this will happen...
 
Otherwise we place youth in danger
 
Peter Hoag
...
 
I would like to add another layer of perspective to this issue.
 
Generally speaking, the treatment model approach presupposes that there is something wrong with a person that needs fixing.  He is troubled, at-risk or incorrigible for example. If that is the model you use, then it would make sense that the youth couldn't be "cured" before he got the treatment.  I'm not saying that is what Lorraine is saying but that "treatment" is a term based on the medical model of disease and prevention and cure.
 
Recent research has shown that as far as counseling and behavioral health goes, health care professionals have about 15% influence in the process. Most of the influence comes from the person themselves and environment that they are in.  (Client Directed approaches have done a lot of research in this area)  So any real measurable change is going to occur whenever we can cooperate with what is going on with the people we serve.
 
The only person who can decide whether residential treatment is a good fit for that young man IS that young man.  Maybe he wants something different like community support, an afterschool program, church.  That would depend on the young person and what he thought.  He needs to decide what is going to help him.  I have no way of knowing so therefore, I'm going to want to see if my program is a good fit for him by asking him and getting his buy in.  I'm not going to impose my expectations on him and expect him to eventually meet them.  I don't pretend to have a fix for a "troubled" kid. All I can truly do is try to help him attain his goals by providing support and therapeutic services.
 
If a kid continually sneaks out at night, then he probably does not want to be in the program.  I don't know - maybe he has an addiction - the point is you have to sit and talk with him to find out.  Maybe the program isn't meeting his needs.  I don't think that it is supportive to kick someone out of a program because they broke some rules.  It all depends on that conversation you have with the kid,  but at the very least you need to have an agreement to go back to and perhaps re-evaluate or re-negotiate. 
 
The biggest problem is that society (in the US, anyway) dumps kids into programs that they don't want to be in and which have very little value to them.
 
Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.
...
 
I think I see your point Lorraine but I also feel that we have to be clear with respect to our expectations of youth and they need to clearly understand what we expect of them.  Without fairly assessing where a youth "is at" we might have unfair expectations which could result in frustration, (ours and the child's), set a youth up for failure or increase the very behaviours we are trying to decrease.  Sometimes we can fail a youth by not paying enough attention to assessing where their strengths lie as well as where they may need support (difficulties).  Without getting a good picture (assessment) of a youth and clearly outlining expectations with respect to their abilities,  we can also miss  strengths or positive attributes, areas where they are "less" difficult and where we can build on the "things they are doing right".  Sometimes it takes a really good eye to see the positive, redeeming qualities in a child...a really good eye,  but my experience has been that they almost always live up to our expectations...
 
All the best,
Brenda
...
 
Hi Angela,
 
Just sharing some thoughts and suggestions as you move forward in the process of engaging and helping this youth adjust to your program. Some areas for you and the others in your program to think about:
 
**First, some thought to being careful of what descriptive words we use for children. "Resistant", "difficult to manage", etc. can create a stigma for a youth within the team and with others that becomes self fulfilling. An important reminder for all of us when we have these kind of kids in our programs is that these are exactly the kind of kids we came to this work to help. Sometimes in the trainings I do in my agency when workers are locked into how terrible it is that the kids are "acting out". I ask them (with a wink) "Well, what would happen if all the kids stopped acting out for the next two months?". They smile and acknowledge that none of us would have jobs and the kids would not need to be in care. We all need a reminder sometimes that we can't support (rather than "manage") the child to improve their behaviors unless we see the behaviors. Of course, there is always the boundary of unsafe behavior that does have to be managed.
 
**Maybe consider some thought to review the "stages" a youth goes through in residential care. All of us have probably experienced those kids who come in to our programs and follow nearly all the rules, are pleasant and polite, etc. during the early period. Some of us even say "Why is this child here??". In most cases it doesn't take too long until we all laugh and say "So, THAT is why!" We then call it "the honeymoon period" and consider it a natural process. There is also another side to early behaviors where the youth comes in like gangbusters seeming to want to challenge every rule and regulation. Not a traditional "honeymoon" but often quite natural that early on kids will either try too hard to fit in, or try too hard NOT to fit in. The real issue is early on we are not seeing "the real kid" and have to see the relationship building as a bumpy, long term process.
 
**Relating to the most challenging youngsters in a supportive way is very difficult for us yet, when you succeed in connecting it has many peripheral benefits. I remember some years ago Larry Brendtro and Martin Brokenleg talking about the importance of "loving the unlovable".  That is not meant that some children are really "unlovable" and for me, points out a crucial piece of treatment. Hopefully we do loads more for youth, but if we do nothing else for the kids we work with in residential care we should be careful not to reject them after the challenging behavior or judge/label them as a person because of it. It is exactly what they have probably faced most of their lives before coming into the program. Through most of my career in direct practice and in training I developed a concept of "money in the bank" when we work with youth. The real "money in the bank" we earn is the relationship we build with kids (by genuinely caring) and we never fully know where and when that will pay off. Certainly in a crisis with a kid we have to have some "money in the bank" to draw out. Connecting money in the bank to the loving the unlovable thinking one of the giant side benefits is when you try extra hard to connect with the most challenging kids and stick with "money in the bank" building, you give a strong message that is very important to every other kid in the program. That message is "I truly understand what this work is about" and "if you were the one so challenging I would be there for you also". In talking with many kids both in the program, and after they leave, over the years that is an exceptional guideline for them about the workers they respected the most and felt were most helpful and those they did not.
 
Hope that helps as you build the "bank account" with this kid.
 
Frank Delano
New York, USA
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