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High Risk Youth Conference 2014

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Peter Smyth

on 2 December 2014

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Transcript of High Risk Youth Conference 2014

Making the Connection:
Working with High Risk Youth

Practice Framework and Philosophy
"The Disconnected"
High-risk youth are
“the disconnected.”
These youth
often report that their
needs are not met
and that their
relationships with social workers and service providers are generally distant and problematic.
Many of these youth have been
“manipulative” and/or “defiant,” leaving them unable to access services they require. These youth typically struggle with authority and
have few, if any, people they feel they can trust.
They live risk-filled lifestyles characterized by such things as drugs, sexual exploitation, violence, living on the streets and family breakdown.
Despite this, all youth have strengths to build on; they demonstrate resilience.
Eaton-Erickson & Smyth (2009). Making the Connection: Strategies for Working with High Risk Youth in MaCkay, S., Fuchs, D., Brown, I., (eds.), Passion for Action in Child and Family Services: Voices from the Prairies. Regina SK, Canadian Plains Research Center
Who are High Risk Youth?
This definition is intended to be a guide for Children and Youth Services staff working under CYFEA and PSECA Legislation for a youth.
For a youth to be defined as “high-risk” there is no condition that they have to meet a certain number of criteria.
This is part of an assessment to determine the needs of the youth, also taking into account how disconnected they may be from having supportive people in their lives, their
struggles with being able to form healthy relationships
, and whether they could benefit from the overall philosophy of the High Risk Youth Initiative given previous challenges with compliance, finding appropriate placements, and avoiding help.
Defined by the level of risk regardless of age.
The use of drugs and/or alcohol appears to be interfering with day-to-day functioning.
The choices they are making may jeopardize their safety (including where they are living and with whom they are associating).
They cannot identify a healthy adult in their lives outside of the professional community.
The youth struggles with authority figures and has few, if any, people they can trust.
There have been multiple placements or the youth is unwilling to stay in an “approved placement”.
There have been multiple file closures due to lack of follow through by the youth.
The youth is involved with, or at-risk for, sexual exploitation including survival sex.
Multi-generational involvement with child and youth services.
He/she is a sexually exploited youth within the definition of the PSECA as per section 1(2).
Practice Framework & Philosophy
Harm Reduction Approach
Community Collaboration
Attachment Theory
Trauma and Brain Development

Relationship-Based Intervention
“Failures and problems with emotional recognition, understanding, containment and regulation develop when…primary relationships are with people who are insensitive, lack empathy, have no attunement, and cause distress and disturbance.
It therefore follows that those who experience problems recognizing, experiencing and regulating their emotions are likely to benefit from forming relationships with people who are emotionally available and responsive
, intelligent and psychologically-minded. If poor relationships are where things emotionally go wrong then healthy relationships are where things can be put right.”
Howe, 2008
Strategies for Working with High Risk Youth
(Smyth, Eaton-Erickson)
Youth are valued and are worth the effort

Be available

I will not
give up!

Gaining TRUST is not the main goal

Intentional interaction—Everything has a purpose


Working from a
(Letting go of the
to be TESTED
Traditional/Punishment Model
"For this type of child, punishment is not an effective learning tool. The terrorized child has had experiences of extreme violation and horror.
There is nothing more one can do to them which would frighten them into behaving better….The violated child is emotionally too disorganized to make the necessary connections and learn from the infliction of punishment.
The violated child lives in a different emotional universe from the rest of us. Their sense of personal damage is so profound that mild threats of damage like punishment do not register with them….
Punishment is experienced as rejection, which deepens the child’s resentment
….Once these children feel contained and consistent love, they will not want to lose it."
Camila Batmanghedidjh (2006)
Psychologist and founder of Kids Company
Explore their
motivation to

Create healthy confusion

"Sometimes we put up walls, not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to knock them down."

Go the extra mile
Be patient
"The best attitude to adopt is one of compassionate patience, which has to include the tolerance for failure."
Gabor Mate (1999)
Build relationships and community networks

All of these
strategies serve
to form--

Peter Smyth MSW, RSW
Specialist for High Risk Youth Services
Caring, Courage & Commitment
“I believe heroes are the people who keep on caring for others and helping others, even when they feel hurt, scared, lonely, or so mad they cannot think straight. It takes courage, the courage to do the right thing. And, it takes commitment to become someone a youth can depend on over time.”
Richard Kagan, PhD (2004)

interactions” means helping to create new neural pathways in youth
From a
neuroscience perspective:

Goal: I am safe
What things/situations put me at risk?
The best way for me to deal with this is...
These are my placement options and supports I can call on...
Ineffective approaches:
Tough love
Three strikes
Zero tolerance

Always be open to learning from the youth, and acknowledge their role in helping
Questions to consider
during workshop:

Why am I working with youth?
Why am I at this workshop?
Why do we continue with traditional practices when the youth are telling us it is not effective?
Why do we look for ways to push youth away when what they are looking for is connection?
Why do we focus on problems in youth when they already feel like they have failed in life, and already get this reinforced everyday?
Why do we expect compliance from youth before we have even established a relationship?

“…some youth in care have a really hard time knowing who they are because they are going through so much shit. Some people like myself and my friends grew up in care and we had a hard time figuring out where we came from. I think that is a big deal.”

A youth described being hurt as she felt she had a very positive relationship with her social worker but later learned that there had been very negative entries made about her on the file. The youth cautioned workers to be careful not to misrepresent one incident and make a generalization about the youth.

“I only saw my worker when I was in trouble. I never saw him when I did good things.”

“I had a social worker who was cool because he listened.”
Full transcript