My name is Shelby and I am currently in my final year of the child and youth counselling program at Mount Royal University in Calgary. I work in a residential treatment program for youth ages 8-17 with severe behavioural problems and multiple diagnoses.
My key kid there is a 16 year old girl who developmentally functions at the level of a three year old and we have adapted our programme to fit her needs. My question however has to do with reconnecting her with her mother in a more positive way than it has been going. Every weekend we try and motivate her to go on home visits as mom is still the guardian. However when we try to do this, she is very reluctant to go home and often sabotages her day so she does not have to go. We never force this interaction between her and her mom but we give her the option then the encouragement needed. Mom is upset because her daughter does not want to go home and most weekends she is not willing to come for a visit in programme because it is a long drive.
It makes sense as to why she would not want to go home as she comes from a very traumatic childhood but I am trying to come up with positive ways to encourage her home on the weekends, while also coming up with things that would motivate her to go. Do you have any suggestions how we can encourage her to go on home visits?
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Hi Shelby. Here's a couple things to try:
- First, and maybe most important, have someone go
home with her or do something to assess and verify the home is a safe
environment. Her actions may be trying to tell the team/you something.
- Switch up the language. She is not going on a home visit, but rather is visiting your program. It might help in supporting a change in perspective.
- Encourage the mother to make visits to the program even though it is difficult to make the trip. You might have to provide some transportation help but if the young person doesn't see someone putting out the effort why should she?
- Make the time with mom or at home shorter at first. Maybe the anxiety is related to the length of time away and starting with a daytime or partial day length time together would help. It could be extended to whole weekends over time.
Good luck and keep hanging in with this young
Here's a suggestion: Try suggesting a neutral location for the young lady and her mother to meet. Build up the relationshop that way instead of causing the young lady trauma and force her to remember bad memories. Hope this works.
Why not start the reconnecting with a place the youth feels most safe, which sounds like your space. Provide the mother with either gas card, or maybe a ride to the program...What is moms comfort and access like to technology like Skype? Also while the mom may be saying the ride is long, what other barriers could be preventing her from visiting? Does she feel/know she is safe at the program (worries about being judged about the past? Traumatic experiences herself with institutions?)? What about facilitating more phone conversations? Or letter writing? Maybe think smaller than a whole weekend? Lots of ideas and things to explore.
P.S. Another quick thought: ‘sabotaging the day’- maybe look at this as her way of trying to convey/cope with her feelings about this change. And help her find ways to communicate/express/cope with these feelings.
This is a parenting issue not a child issue. Mom has the physical and mental capacity to travel and chooses not to. The expectation should not be on the child to make the appropriate choice as she is incapable of making good choices for herself as indicated by placement in a behavioral intervention program.
All I would add is that in addition to finding somewhere neutral it can be helpful to find somewhere central, like half way where both parties need to invest time and effort, and support this through an activity. It doesn't need to be something that costs money as it could be a park or open space that takes the focus away from their relationship and that face to face interaction and allows them to use a medium to engage.
I think the youth’s behaviours are speaking volumes! She is not ready to go home nor is it her wish to at this time. I suggest meeting her where she's at. Sometimes we get caught up in our motives, what we want to see happen, we forget to listen to what the youth’s behaviours are telling us.
Meet her at where she's at, process that with her. When she acts up prior to visits label that (not as a negative) but 'I see your doing this and it's almost home time. So why don't we talk about why you don't want to go home and that's ok we can cancel the visit if you want us to'
It will be hard for mom to hear this, but first you have to meet her where she is, work out why - maybe it's not feeling safe at home, or that mom can keep her safe. Which case problem solve with the youth: mom comes for games night once a week to do a preferred activity with the youth, maybe the youth wants to visit mom not at the house and only short visits to start.
Pace the relationship building and pace the home visits for the family. Make it a treatment team decision so the youth doesn't have to feel bad and mom can't hold it over youth’s head.
Does mom want to visit? Is she able to visit her in your facility? Can mom move to a new home? IS mom in therapy? Is there family therapy going on? I would encourage the system of care to look at how the environment can adapt to meet this young woman where she is at rather than (just) trying to transition her home. What does the young woman see as her future options? Remaining in residential probably is not feasible nor humane, so can she identify what she needs to feel safe and how can her environment get as close to that as possible? What jurisdictions are involved (ie child protection, corrections, mental health) and can you leverage each of these systems to get her in the best possible environment? PErhaps she wants to go into foster care? or another family member or caring person's home (not always feasible due to parental guardianship bit through negotiation in a therapeutic relationship sometimes families can discover that what they "want" is not always best for the youth. What is Mom's developmental level? Is she the best option for the kid? Can both mom and daughter be placed in a caring placement?
I ask many questions to encourage you and your team to think outside of the box. Go slower... what does this youth require to develop resiliency to manage home visits? Sounds like she is not ready... so what are the intermediate steps that can be put into place to help get her closer to being ready and increase her resiliency and adaptability.
Good luck and great listening!