Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 16, 2000
Troubled youth seek understanding
They're looking for social workers who will never give up
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Bonnie is 18 years old. She left home when she was 15. She was placed in group homes, but had a tendency to go AWOL. She tried committing suicide. Her social worker lost hope and said Bonnie would never accomplish much in life. The social worker suggested taking her off youth status so she would not qualify for youth allowances and services.
Angel is 19. She's been in the care of social services most of her life. She said, "The system is my family." She has problems dealing with authority. And like many kids floating through the system, "I've got baggage, luggage, cargo. You name it I've got it." She was pregnant at 16. Her mother had one foot in the psychiatric ward and "she was happily medicated every once in awhile."
These stories were shared Oct. 6, during a session at the Ethics in Action: Living the Challenges conference hosted by Catholic Social Services.
Angel and Bonnie, with the help of Jason LeBlanc of the Association for Youth In Care, brought some real life examples of the sometimes not-so-idyllic life of youth in social services care.
"For kids, if their world has been limited, that's how they will see the world when they get older," said Darlene Muscroft, a program coordinator with Catholic Social Services' children and youth services.
But these stories have a happy ending. Bonnie's priorities are no longer running away from home and trying to kill herself. She is completing her high school diploma and aiming for a career in youth care work.
Angel gave her twins up for adoption, but still has the opportunity to visit them regularly. She is settling into her own apartment and finishing her schooling.
And the thing that helped these two youngsters onto the right path were compassionate social workers who never gave up and knew when it would be OK to break the rules.
"She wasn't supposed to, but my social worker gave me her home number and said I could call her anytime I needed something," Bonnie said. "She would invite me to her house and we'd sit and have tea."
LeBlanc, 20, had an "endless cycle of learning wrongs" in his life. His parents were not supportive of anything he did and when he was 14, he found himself abandoned and left to fend for himself after his parents' divorce.
He spent his days wondering where his meal would come from and where he would sleep at night. These are the same things on the minds of many of the youth on the street and even in care.
"You have to understand that their mentality and way of thinking is different from yours," said LeBlanc. "You won't get it overnight, you have to listen. You have to be patient."
Working with youth labelled as "troubled" can be a challenge, admitted the young speakers. But they gave the participants some words of wisdom.
"You all have very good souls. You all deal with things that will wear on a soul. If you don't take that time now to help these kids and do it right, there won't be people like you in the future . . . and if there wasn't people like you, I wouldn't be here today."
Other suggestions for the participants were: Give structure to youth, but don't control their lives; allow them to learn through their mistakes; give them opportunities to have mentors; advocate for them; and most importantly never give up on a youth no matter how much they tell you they don't need help.
LeBlanc also sent a strong message to the group of about 30 who work and volunteer in social services programs.
"You're not perfect and I don't expect you to be. But I do have high expectations of you. I hope you have the same expectations of yourself and co-workers. (The job) is not easy, but it's worth it if you put the effort into it."
A worker with a degree who sits behind a desk making assumptions and handing out solutions will not influence a youngster, said the youth speakers.
They all emphasized a need for compassion, persistence and most importantly, said Angel: "We need workers who leave their morals at home and come to work with fresh minds.
"You haven't lived the way we live . . . don't give us your morals about the way we do things. Just listen to us."