Several years ago, the agency in which I work
embarked on a mission to become “family centered.” We began a process of
involving families in our residential programs, and working with parents
as partners to better meet the needs of their children. A recent event
in one of our homes has confirmed, to me, that we are on the right
I was talking on the phone the other day to Jill, the senior counsellor in one of our programs. Jill was giving me an update on the progress of Billy, a 13-year-old youth residing in this home. Billy has only been with this program for about a month, and the staff have had difficulty keeping him in the house. The program, which is community-based, was located within walking distance of Billy’s mom’s house and his old neighborhood. Unfortunately, the temptation to spend time there was too great for Billy to resist. While Billy has regular access to his mom “he usually goes home every weekend “he is not permitted to be there all the time and does have other things he is expected to do during the day “like go to school. Furthermore, Billy had previously been banned by the police from this neighborhood for causing trouble, which included setting things on fire. It is not in Billy’s best interests to be hanging out there so often.
The staff in the program tried several strategies to entice Billy to spend time with them and keep him involved with the program. These included planning lots of fun activities and encouraging Billy to invite his friends over. They also worked closely with Billy’s mom. She kept tabs on him when he was in the neighborhood and reported his whereabouts to staff. Nothing appeared to be working, however, and the time Billy spent away from the home continued to increase.
Billy has significant difficulty trusting and connecting with others. He and his mom have a very rocky history and he has not lived with her for several years. Mom is often verbally and emotionally abusive towards Billy (and others), and does not appear to understand the impact that this has on him. In the old days, we would have tried to keep them apart, out of “concern” for Billy. Now, we want to pull her in. The relationship between Billy and his mom will only improve if we create opportunities for this to happen. On top of that, we need her help.
Staff have consistently encouraged Billy’s mom to come over and “hang out” in the program. She was reluctant at first, but staff persisted and their persistence is starting to pay off. During my conversation with Jill the other day, she informed me that, for the last three nights, Billy’s mom has come over and Billy has stayed in the house. Together with staff, they play board games and watch TV. Billy lies on the couch with his head in Mom’s lap, and she ruffles his hair. Mom is also starting to become more positive in her interaction with Billy; staff have noticed less criticism and more affirmations. And “it gets even better “Jill said that for the last couple of days, Billy has started referring to his mother as my mom. He’ll say, “Can my mom come over tonight?” “Can I get my mom a glass of water?” “I’m going to watch TV with my mom.” This is new, and Jill and I both agree that we are witnessing attachment behavior.
Things are on an upswing. Staff in the program are encouraged and excited. As Jill said to me, “I’m so glad I got to work 4-12 the last two nights. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Working with families is the way to go. Just ask Billy.