National Child Protection Week runs from 6 – 12 September. It’s the week we promote the safety and well-being of children and young people. I want to focus on what happens to a young person when they are abused and what treatment looks like for them. I often find that people think moving abused young people into safe environments is a solution, but it isn’t. It is just the first step.
In 2013-14, Child Protection Services reports that 143,023 children received protection services. These young people weren’t being provided with a safe and stable environment during their most formative years.
To cope with this, these kids develop the ability to detect threats quickly and develop responses that increase their chances of survival. The behaviours and responses developed during this time can range from: fleeing from danger; making themselves seem scary and tough, taking on the responsibilities that are generally that of a parent or by blocking out the world around them.
After moving them into a safer environment, these young people still have over active threat detection systems, which can lead to considerable problems for them. They may still scan their environment, constantly looking for danger, which can lead to poor focus (in or outside of the classroom). They may have anger issues and can be triggered by the slightest of problems. They might try to manage their emotions in unsafe ways – through damaging property, threatening others or consuming illicit substances. Even more troubling is their inability to trust anyone. It’s so difficult to treat and nurture these young people because they often have a deep-seated negative view of the people and world around them.
Working with these young people is difficult and it’s important to remember what they’ve been through. First, a certain level of trust must be built in order to move forward with them. After that, it’s important to work with a young person to help them manage their emotions, heal from the pain they have experienced, and build relationships with others.
Youth Off The Streets approaches this using the Circle of Courage framework and restorative practices. This is a holistic approach to reclaiming children and young people that is grounded in resilience and in values of deep respect for their dignity. The Circle of Courage™ evolved from an anthropological comparison of child development between Western and Native North American cultures. Native North American cultures regard children as spiritual creations (the Lakota Sioux word for child is translated as “sacred being”). Youth Off The Streets is committed to building this approach across all services and programs, and seeks to cultivate an environment that promotes attachment (belonging), competence (mastery), power (independence), and virtue (generosity) for the young people we work with to support them to achieve positive life choices. One of my favourite saying is ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and in this case it is absolutely true. Community members, services, youth workers and psychologists must work together for the benefit of the young person. Only through this collaborative approach can we unlock their full potential.
It’s not enough to simply move young people into a safer environment. The community must come together to ensure that once they are safe that these young people get the help they need Only through this can we unlock their full potential.