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Hygiene issues at a drop in centre

Hello,

I am a Child and Youth Work student and also a pastor’s wife. We have a youth who attends the youth drop in centre at my placement as well as the youth group my husband leads. This past weekend he came away with the youth group. He is a large boy who does not bathe or change his clothes regularly. He walks everywhere he goes and his boots and feet smell horribly as well as the rest of his body. During the weekend he mentioned to my husband that people don’t want to hang out with him. And he identified that his odour is one of the things that probably affects this. So this youth is aware that this is a problem. But throughout the weekend refused to shower. He arrived on Friday with quite an odour and did not clean himself throughout the weekend. He also slept in the pants he wore for the whole time. My question is how do we instill the need for proper hygiene? The youth is aware of the problem but seems to just not follow through with cleaning himself. He is 16 years old and this is impacting every area of his life. I know we cannot make him shower but any ideas on how to kindly insist he do so?

Any thoughts or suggestions are really appreciated.

Amber
...

Hello Amber,
I would suspect that there is something more than the need for proper hygiene going on here. Does the youth have clean clothes to change into? Have his clothes been stolen in the past? Has he experienced abuse while bathing? Has anyone asked the youth why he chooses not to bathe, what does he answer? Has anyone talked to his parents about the issue?

If the youth is aware of the issue and will not bathe when there are opportunities, the chances are that there is something more going on here. I would refrain from insisting that the youth bathe; that is likely to have him put up a wall. Instead, work to build a trusting relationship with him and ask him why he chooses not to bathe. It will take time, and maybe he will never tell you why, but insisting that he bathe without looking for the reason why he doesn't may cause him to shut down.

Good luck!
Rachael Kenney
Boston, MA
...

There is a reason why this youth is not taking care of himself. There's more to it than you think. I don't know the youth or his family so its hard to say what it is for this young man. Get to know this youth, talk to him about his family. Maybe they don't have money to pay a water bill? Maybe he was never taught how to properly wash himself? He could just have low self esteem and not care enough to change it? Perhaps they dont' have laundry services or money to do his laundry.. .there are many things that you could look at in this situation. Dig a little deeper :) It could take time, set goals, make a plan.

Sarah Wright
...

Perhaps he does not have any clothing to change into, and so feels no need to bathe as the smell would remain. Approach him with an offer of new clothing and shoes (please handle with discretion, often I have told youth they won a prize or that they have been awarded the ... for effort, or some such) and see what he says.

Linda Windjack
...

My 16-yr-old is very similar to your guy. He just doesn't think it is a need... if I don't check his laundry basket he will wear the same underwear for days (7 is the longest that I have found out about). He has gone 14 days without a shower. I have tried leaving him to his own devices, I have tried telling him every day to go do it, I have tried rewards and consequences. People have told him he stinks, I have driven 30 minutes in the rain and cold with the window down because I could not breathe from the stench. When I told him why we froze and were wet he just shrugged and said "sorrrrrry". At that age we can't go in and help them do it and at times he has faked it by running the water and wetting his hair. The only thing that really works for us is for us to have a schedule, a regular routine (no missing even if it is a do nothing day), and me reminding him to go do it if he forgets. Of course I have some control over my guy where you don't so all I can suggest is a continuous reminder to him that his lack of personal hygiene affects everyone around him.

Marsha Orien
... 

The boy has a reason for not following through with his self care. Consider what that reason may be and approach from that perspective. E.g. does his home have the capability for him to maintain himself? Does he have a cognitive deficit that hinders his ability to organize self care without prompts? Is he used to being abandoned so when he smells bad he continues the cycle without having to act out?

Ask WHY he doesn't maintain his self care, and help him with strategies that address his reasoning.

Lisa
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This is not unusual behaviour for someone who has experienced trauma. It can be one of the indicators of sexual victimisation so what may seem a simple hygiene problem might be much more complicated. I don't know what resources or supports this youth has but it might be a 'can't' as opposed to a 'won't' issue.

Peter Hoag
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I think you need to get to the reason why he doesn't want people around him. It sounds like he knows why people are staying away from him and he is doing everything within his power to ensure that people do stay away from him. I don't think hygiene is the issue.

Manjit Virk
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Hi: I am an EA and in my second year CYC. Hygiene is a difficult situation for a young boy or girl. I guess the hard part is telling the youth about his odor but it seems like the hard part had already been acknowledged. I would discuss how his hygiene may be affecting the rest of the youth that are around him. I would also encourage him to try to make an effort to shower every day or every couple of days and that his friends may start to include him in their activities. It may be helpful to find some books or magazines on healthy hygiene and self care. I would also make a huge effort to notice when he does take care of his problem and encourage him to keep it a regular routine. I would hope once he starts to shower on a regular basis that his peers would also begin to notice and compliment him.

Elaine
...

Hi Amber,

Well there are a few things that come to my mind when I read your story...
Have you chatted with him about this issue and why he feels that he does not have to shower?
What is his input on hygiene?
Why does he have the need to wear the same clothes all the time? attachment to them?
Try perhaps going swimming with him a few times a week with a another male and then they can show him how to shower, if not at least the water from the pool can help... :)

Hope this helps

Beata
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Perhaps this youth has some sexual abuse issues that need to be dealt with before addressing his lack of hygiene? Often times youth who have been through sexual abuse do not bathe as a defense mechanism to keep people away (from research and personal work experience I have seen this)....or is it a reflection to how he feels on the inside? My suggestion would be to talk to the youth, develop a healthy trusting relationship with the youth and then intervene according to what he discloses. If he does disclose a history of sexual abuse and those issues are dealt with, perhaps his hygiene issues would disappear. Of course, if in fact he is a survivor of sexual abuse that would be the more important issue over his hygiene issue....but that's just my opinion. Hope this helps and good luck with your work :)

Germaine Bear
...

Do a reward system with him. If he showers give him points to earn things or money. You decide.

Maurice Bouvier
...

Showering is an issue with many youth. There may be many reasons a person doesn't bath.

Try it slow and tell him to wash with a cloth the body parts that are the "stinkiest". If he does that, than he may not be lazy. I am also a swimming teacher and fear of water in the face is a real issue. This in not an issue that can be fixed by repeated washings. You don't just get use to it. He must be helped.

Some teens give off an odour during the puberty years. For myself, I had the stinky feet in my family. As I passed puberty I no longer had an issue with that.

You need to talk to him more and find out why he doesn't wash. He may not wash to make it easier on himself. He may want to turn them away first. He may have been hurt by rejection so he creates a safe rejection, which he initiates.

Talking will help.

Donna Wilson
...

Hi Amber

I come from a family of six girls and one boy, and let me tell you...I remember the battles my own Mom had with my brother and bath time. So much so that I was convinced boys in general are absolutely petrified of water... :-) When I became a Mom and had my own boys, I knew I would need help with that particular issue. (I'm also a YCW, having worked with youth from all walks of life).

My magical solution for bath time was to provide a caddy of fun bath stuff for everyone using the shower. I would also lay out a fluffy towel, facecloth, cool boxers and a clean t-shirt. (I once worked in a shelter for the homeless where I would do laundy while the youth was in the shower because some guys only had the clothes they wore).

The caddy would contain two brands of bar soaps, two kinds of shampoo, a manicure set, shaving goo and razors (later on), etc. Eventually, each received a shaving kit/travel pouch for their individual/personal items.

It took time but it developed their independence and self esteem.

Shower time is pleasant again :-)

I have helped families set up this system and it works well with the amount of effort they are willing to put in. It needs to be in a relaxed mode where the youth is allowed to choose and go at his or her own pace. Nevertheless, bath time should definitely be part of the house rules/routine.

Happy bubbles,
Louise B. YCW
...

I am inclined to agree with those who suggest that things should be allowed to 'let be' with this young man over his hygiene rather than 'do' anything about it just yet. I would not presume anything yet even though it may well transpire that he has been the victim of earlier childhood abuse or has experienced some adolescent humiliation. I would do as Germaine suggests and try to develop a relationship with him in a way that allows trust between us to develop to the extent where it becomes possible to create a space where he can begin to reflect safely on these matters with me. Of course I may not be the one to achieve this kind of relationship. If this were so, I would be, with the rest of the staff team, looking for a colleague who could develop such a relationship.

During this period it will be the team's job to protect him - if not entirely - at least from the most harmful aspects of the opprobrium of his peers.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe
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