Phillip McKay



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If you ran a program for teenagers. How would you do it? How would you address the concern of anti-social behaviours?

I'm asking for your contributions to be considered for a funded program. Its up and running but I am always looking to improve and would value your comments. Designed to divert young people from the Youth Justice System, it presently holds restorative principles at its core. With the objective of increasing health and well-being ( and reducing offending behaviour). Share with me your ideas, suggest practical activities, models of working and ways of healing. Our teenagers can do it hard, in this stage, as reflected in the mental health and suicide statistics and through a question raised recently in these conversations by a young man. The young people I work with have come from poor backgrounds, with broken families, disengaged from school and with alcohol and other drugs and mental health concerns. There is often intergenerational offending and a variety of criminogenic needs. Their risk of continuing to offend is high with many having already served periods of detention. The limitation or advantage is that four staff can work intensively with these people for 10 weeks. Is my mission doomed? Is ten weeks enough? Staff ratio is good but time is poor. How do you maximise your impact? This conversation may well be doomed with minds that have forgotten both the delight and angst of teenagerhooddom - perhaps the answer is more likely found listening to the young people? Not that you’re old and not that there’s any matter with old. Still lets give it a go and see. I'd value your thoughts.

  • Oct 11 2011: Hi Phillip,

    The most crucial factor in really getting through to these kids will be gaining their trust. Starting out by throwing them into a room of 'qualified' adults may not be the best way to get them to open up though (if most of them are from broken families with criminal records, they will likely mistrust adults/authority figures). Have you considered starting a mentor system? If you could do something like assign a newcomer a mentor who is familiar with the program, I think you would have a better chance of getting the kids to open up to you.
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    Oct 11 2011: I think the problem is basically with connection. These kids are anti-social because they cannot connect to people, have been betrayed by people, not loved by people, etc. May I suggest dogs (loving and loyal) and /or horses (large, scary, would be a challenge and would command respect). Perhaps a breakthrough could be made through animals. Riding for the Disabled is a wonderful program… perhaps something similar would work for your kids as they have not been betrayed by animals and they may feel safe with them. Safe enough to connect….
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    Oct 11 2011: Hello, I worked at a place similiar to this. It was a residental treatment program and the young men who came there were mostly either drug addicts or had been in the sytem at some time or another. The idea behind the program was habilitation through community-only it was self sustaining facility and also a working farm. Each resident was assigned different tasks from agriculture to cutting wood to feeding sheep. They all worked alongside each other , volunteers and counselors(such as myself). There was 2 resident liscened Psycologists that lived on the farm. We worked every other day. On the days off we had 2 group sessions where everyone would come together and talk about anything they wanted. It was very laid back but the positive affirmation that comes through work and achievment and accomplishment was tremendous.
  • Oct 11 2011: Hello Phillip,

    A tall order for 10 weeks. What does the funding agency have in mind in terms of follow-up support after the 10 weeks are up? What do you have planned for follow-up? These are fragile people, the worst thing that you can do is start something that can't be finished. It is a long-haul job, the deeper the wounds, the longer the process to heal. A safety net needs to be in place, because when some of these kids leave with a vision of themselves and hope in their hearts, and discover they are left hanging, they will enter a depth of despair that will be worse than when you found them.

    These good intentioned bandaids for wounds that require surgery are doomed, not just to failure, but result in a mess that is far worse to clean up. I suggest this.

    Use this time to cultivate a dynamic amongst the participants through "Base Groups" where they direct the focus and course of the 10 weeks. Empower them by giving them the opportunity to participate fully, be heard, have the information they need and guide them in a dialogue on what they can do for themselves when the 10 weeks are up. I'm sure there is funding that can be available if they get themselves organised and are shown how to submit proposals for programme aid.

    You will need qualified counsellors who know what they are doing ... this cannot be treated lightly.

    The answer, no matter how you cut it, is to have facilitators that are able to mentor them in a critical think-tank that is able to initiate something within that 10 weeks. Think Paulo Friere and "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed"
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      Oct 11 2011: Thansk Wayne, we do have a post course support worker who continues to work with the young person, all be it less intensely for the next two years. We also have qualified counsellors/psychologists that we refer to.
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      Oct 11 2011: @Wayne ,I like the idea of following up support considering what can be realistically achieved in a 10-day program.

      @Philip, sounds like you've already done a lot of about a session on how to deal with emotion to get them discuss how they are affected and also come up with some strategies or skills they could use in the future?
  • Oct 10 2011: Ask them what they want to do...what I mean is ask them what their opinion is and what are their troubles. Share some of your own experience when you were young. Try to relate to them but do not patronize too much. Listen! Save time but don't push it too much since teenagers tend get offended when they notice they are less important than logistics and projects. One of my major problems with a group of teenagers was miscommunication. Use full setances, speak in a simple, down to earth and honest way and don't be too serious nor prejudiced to what may seem as banal teenage problems. Ask them what they want to see, acomplish and experience. Provide examples if they keep silent. Let the know they can express themselves but not to impresss others or beacuse of peer pressure to be cool.....but to express what they need adn want now and what truly troubles them. What makes them so angry? Situation at home, situation in society? They need to vent that energy somewhere and just writing it all off as teenage angst is what got them in trouble in the first place. Show them, either by video, documentary or real life examples of people that went through a lot in life (better yet in their teenage years) and how they got through and survived. What did they learn and what do they regret?
    I like this video...
    Make them realize that they can and have a power to change their circumstances and or path in the long run with adequate support if they wish it so.
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      Oct 11 2011: Thanks for the advice, these ways are useful. I'll check the youtube out as well Cheers Mate.
      • Oct 11 2011: No problem. Hope it helps. However in the end this is a huge challenge. Having met quite a few suicidal teenagers, self destructive etc I can hands down say....there is no final answer or solution. Maybe that is the best answer...nothing in life is for certain but that is what makes it great since nothng is set in stone. Usually the kids I worked with, liked to be listened to and have my promises kept on time. Also, make sure you do not give way too much of yourself. They need an example, something more stable but they don't need you to get emotinally and mentally exhausted.