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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

ListenListen to this

Street kids

I am working in a residential care program with 'street kids'. It's also my first time working in this kind of an environment. I started working with them in August this year. I am struggling to get through to them – it's like they have given up in life; it is really sad. It's almost that they live for today – they are not bothered about tomorrow. I have been in child care for the last eight years and I have not seen anything like this. If there is anybody who have suggestions for me to deal with this situation I will be delighted.


Sindiswa Mlilwana


I have worked with this population for some time now, and I think the thing to remember is that "their" priorities are very different than "ours."

Changing our perceptions to meet theirs on their level is helpful as our worlds do not tend to focus on where our next meal (or hit of crack) comes from.

Getting through to them is going to meet your need, but for them, I would say a non-judgmental, relationship based approach is what they need, without any kind of agenda. It's hard to see the things that you have and will see, and it's hard to not jump in and try to "save" them, but I would say focus on the relationship...the rest will follow. Harm reduction is also a key component, but this is just from my experience. Thanks for your time.

The short answer could be to begin by talking to these youth about what they want to talk about. Street youth have a culture that is interesting and you can learn a lot about it by asking them to describe it to you. Become a social anthropologist first. Once the youth start sharing with you about their lives and ideas, you will find opportunities to be of assistance, based on what they tell you they want. And once you become a good listener, they will listen back.

A good resource, if you like reading about working with street youth, is Peterson & Wayman (2006) Streetworks: Best practices and standards in outreach methodology to homeless youth. StreetWorks Collaborative, Minneapolis, MN. You can order this book by emailing here

Jack Nowicki,


Sindiswa, my dear Capetonian...

Though I am quite confident that you have far more skills than I could hope to have – via your amazing work at James House – "Project Offstreets" here in Minneapolis (Minnesota, USA) has had a lot of success. Though I don't personally know anyone in the organization, I thought that you may want to poke around their website and possibly send them an email for materials, ideas, networking, comfort, etc.

Their web address is:

All Child and Youth Care workers are welcome to take a peek as well.


Nate Whittaker,
College of Education & Human Development University of Minnesota

You may wish to contact Alison Lane who works in Mexico with an established street program; it is called Juconi.

Their web page is:
They have an incredible street program going and have had a great deal of success. Alison would be a great resource.

Camille Regan LCSW
Clinical Coordinator

Hi Sindi,

This is often a struggle for youth who have been street involved for some time. They have experienced little positives and today is stressful enough to have to worry about tomorrow. Help these youth experience great successes that they can celebrate (simple things sometimes like getting a job, keeping stable, going to the zoo for the first time, getting a new item of clothing). Helping them celebrate successes will get you closer to them, and then, once they have stability, they can think about the future. Make good plans with clear time frames and make them achievable.

I myself have just accepted a team leader position with a new program that will be the last step in helping street youth move to independence. It's a great opportunity and very necessary.

Anyways, hope that helps a little.

Gary Benthem

This article I wrote might help. /cycol-0505-streetkids.html

Ziggy Stardust

Local soup kitchens?

Derek Wicks

I have not had alot of experience with "street kids" exactly but the program I work in is with kids who had a home but had no rules, no security, even very abusive and unhealthy places to call home. Some of them might have been safer on the streets. Anyway, I see the same thing in some ways – the "living for today". Easy come, easy go – no respect for themselves, their things, other clients things or staff. I think some of it is because they have never had security – nothing they could actually count on that would be the same next week as it is today – except the fact that they would still be scared, abused or be parenting themselves. I feel that a lot of these kids had to stop being kids when they were 4, 5, 6 or even younger. I think in lots of cases, they need to be taught and given permission to be a kid – do things for fun – play in the sand, play in the water, play lego or playdough or color – and have our permission to enjoy it. I don't know if this will help you but it has helped me sometimes.

Marilyn Elliot

Hi Sindiswa,

I also work in a residential care programme. One of the programmes we offer is a treatment centre for young people who are substance dependent. This programme uses the Adolescent Development Model which has proved to be extremely successful in assisting these young people rekindle a sense of hope and belief in a future. We took this model and with some adaptations developed it into a 12-week programme for a group of young people who had been living on the street. Of the 8 who attended the programme, 6 graduated after the 12-week period and, moved into a group home and are presently attending bridging classes in preparation for placement into the formal education system next year.

NACCW will be able to give you further information on the Adolescent Development Model and they also offer training. e-mail: HERE

Good luck.

Mandy Goble


Working with street children is not an easy task. I worked with them for 5 yrs and some of the tips I learnt were ...

Street children feel hopeless and vulnerable due to what they have gone through in life. The first thing you need to do is to be their good friend.

This you can do by knowing their likes, in particular games. Then involve yourself in this. In particular street kids love football. As you play with them trust will be built up. Try to affirm them by enhancing their talents and encouraging them that it's possible to make it.

Due to their vulnerability and people perceiving them as hopeless, as a worker you have to show and encourage them that it's possible to change. But one thing you have to be is patient enough if you want results. It took me 3 months to start seeing results and it worked. Remember this: if you appreciate them, affirm their talents, you will be surprised at the result.

I will share more information on this.

Kenneth Ndua

Hi Sindi,

I am a second year CYCC student at Mount Royal College in Calgary Alberta. I have been working with girls ages 14 -19 who are involved in sexual exploitation (prostitution), or at risk of being sexually exploited. Most of these young girls come to our program from the streets, looking for a Safe Haven. I know what you are talking about when you see no life in their eyes with the feeling of despair. I see and feel it too!

In Calgary the subculture of youth homelessness is exploding. There aren't enough shelters to house and feed our youth. They don't have enough resources to provide follow through care in regards to addictions and mental health that these youth struggle with on a daily basis. It's not that we don't have these resources because we have wonderful programs assisting youth. My thought is that the government doesn't provide the funds to link and maintain street youth to these services that are essential to the success of youth wanting to change. The city's biggest problem is not having enough follow through care like staffing, group homes, assisted living, or detox/rehab long-care facilities where the youth are provided shelter, food, clothing, education, and appreciated professionals that work closely with them until they are stable and confident to prosper on their own.

When it comes to youth living on the street in comparison to youth that live in homes with families, extended family, or friends, their priorities are extremely different because they come from different worlds. Street youth live day-to-day because they never know if they will survive the night. Most of the young women I have had the opportunity to meet and work with, survive everyday struggling with self esteem issues; suppressed memories of sexual abuse and incest; devastation from the results of abortion(s); a false idea of a woman's role in regards to their relationships with men; addictions to alcohol and drugs; mental health disorders; STIs; self-harming behaviours; behaviour issues; breakdowns in the system which limit their resources to funding, education opportunities, assisted living, steady employment, and counselling. It's not that these youth don't want homes. For most of them they want to be at home with the people they love and cherish most. Instead of being loved by a family they are fighting physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually to survive another day on the streets. Which is an extreme amount of hard work, when they don't have the means to get the help they desperately need.

As a Child and Youth Care Counsellor I fight and educate everyday so the youth I work with will survive OFF of the streets, getting the services they need which I can provide. Telling them every moment I can that they are special and they have a purpose greater than what they are living. Advocating for their lives and the quality of life they should have as young people. Listening and understanding their needs and wants for their future of just tomorrow. Supporting their mistakes, so they might make different choices. Protecting them with connections to other services so they don't feel alone. Loving them as individuals.

My advice to anyone working with street youth is to be strong with your own personal morals, values, and self-awareness. Youth that are homeless are very susceptible to positive and negative influences, which gives us the opportunity to be a positive role model and change the youth we work with.
Always remember that we can change a young person's life by just being there. Showing them that you care even if they make a poor decision or have a relapse in recovery. Giving them hope that tomorrow can be different.

Believing in them.

Stacey McRae

Hi Sindi,

I am a youth worker from Nova Scotia, and have some experience working to motivate and encourage youth to go forward in life and start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I found that putting them in situations where they are the ones helping and not the ones being "helped" is a good start. Why don't you try taking them to a shelter to help serve a meal, or get them in involved in the community doing something that would interest them, I know they may not have too many interests they want to share but if you pick a few for them, it won't take long for them to let you know what they would rather do. Also don't be shy to be a little pushy in getting them up and going – they may not like you at first but they need someone to give them that push, it is why we are here. And lastly, youth can tell when someone is trying too hard, and not being themselves. Use your own unique interest with them, you can't save them all, but there is always some who's heart is waiting to be warmed. Don't give up on them or yourself!!! Have a thick skin.

Dayna Bowman

Hi Sindi,

I am in my last year of the CYCC program in Calgary. I haven't worked directly with "street youth" before but I am interested in it as well. I think that it is natural to be frustrated that you are not connecting with them the way that you might with youth that haven't had the same struggles.

I think it is important for you to remember that they ARE actually used to living for today because that is what they have had to do to survive. Since looking after their primary basic needs is the most important, they perhaps haven't even had a chance to think about things like dreams and goals the way we have. I think it is great that you are struggling with it because it shows that you care, and just keep trying to build relationships with them and you just might break through to one of them!

If you are interested, I did an article critique last year on homeless youth and these are the articles that I used, they may be very helpful:

Bronstein, L.R. (1996). Intervening with Homeless Youths: Direct Practice Without Blaming the Victim. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 13(2), 127-138.
Rew, L. & Horner, S.D. (2003). Personal Strengths of Homeless Adolescents Living in a High-Risk Environment. Advances in Nursing Science, 26(2), p.

Good luck!
Colleen Bass

From: Cassandra Goldie
Sent: 11 October 2006 11:11 PM

In my work with street youth I have found that music is a key to unlocking great conversations with them. You can learn a lot about a young person through the music's lyrics, type of music they listen to. It is a safe way for them to communicate their feelings.

Cassandra Goldie

Further reply to Sindi.

Hi Sindi,

I am a second year student in the Child and Youth Care Counsellor Diploma program at Mount Royal College, in Calgary Alberta.

Although I have not worked directly with street children I believe I have been taught some great things that might be helpful for you. One thing our teachers stress that is the most important thing when working with children and youth is the relationship you build with them. They always say, if you can not build a positive relationship with the youth is it much harder to get though to them and to help them build positive things in their lives. Once you have been able to build a relationship with the youth I think it is important to get the youth involved in the community.

As street children have been used to living day-to-day I do not believe they have had time to develop a relationship with the community. I believe a relationship with the community the children are living in is very important. This will give them a sense of belonging; it could be another place that they could go in case they are struggling. Taking the children out in the community and doing community activities could be a positive thing for them. Hopefully these suggestions help you. Good luck, it sounds like you care a lot about the children you are working with and asking for help was a great idea.

Avery Murphy

Hi Sindi,

My name is Angella Hardy and I am a second year student at Mount Royal College enrolled in the Child and Youth Care Counsellor diploma program. One thing to remember when working with street children is relationship, relationship, relationship!! These youth have come from backgrounds of physical, mental and emotional abuse and what they really need is someone to talk to, someone to trust. Although you are struggling to get through to them do not give up. Giving up is something they expect from you it is something they have dealt with their whole lives, they feel their worlds have given up on them and now they are giving up on themselves.

To start the relationship process, talk to them and find out who they are and what they're about. Gain insight into their personalities by asking them about the music they listen to, question their thoughts on certain lyrics and how they might reflect feelings they are going through. On top of building relationships, it is our job to help empower these youth and help them realize that they are capable of achieving the goals the wish to accomplish. We can also help these youth be more aware of the community support services that are in place to help them such as counselling services for example. Although it is not easy to reach these youth, it is possible. Work on building the relationship at every chance you get and don't give up on them.

Angella Hardy

Hi Angella and Sindi

I'm not sure that I would start with personal questions. My experience is that unless loads of trust building time has been invested, a homeless child or young person will not connect with you if you start in a threatening way.

After all, how do they know you are not an under-cover someone who wants information (and not relationship).

Think rather of a way to show your authentic heart of care and concern ... like just chilling and talking about less direct stuff ... and walking yet another mile in his shoes!

Denis D

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