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Restoring a Young Person To Community

INTERNAL RESILIENCE INSTEAD OF EXTERNAL RELIANCE

In Canada’s action plan for restoring Indigenous people following decades of cultural genocide, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes this call upon the Government of Canada and its peoples, “We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care”1

In our last blog we discussed that the best course of action to reducing the number of children out-of-the-community in congregate care is to build the strengths of the communities from which they come. We discussed using the 40 Developmental Assets list by the Search Institute to measure community health.2

I’ve personally used the Search Institute’s measurements to find strengths and challenges of many communities where I’ve served as a community worker in the past (DAP: The Developmental Assets Profile)3. In many situations, I’ve had other community leaders become hostile about the results. They often argue about them ideologically, but—once the measurements are in—it is hard to argue with the numbers. The results also provide a great tool for creating outcomes in a community action plan.

The key to the health of any community is to make it more internally resilient rather than externally reliant. In light of the alarmingly high suicide rates among aboriginal youth, a special immediacy must be placed on responding to this issue. There are many Northern communities hearing they need more counselors, more funds for policing, health and education, but this alone has not led to less suicides in the past. However, there is a specific type of education that does work to lower suicide rates among aboriginal teens in Northern areas. Studies on youth suicide and school dropout rates among Indigenous communities indicate that cultural continuity is the crucial component in prevention. “Aboriginal ‘bands’ that lack various markers of cultural continuity (operationalized here using band-level measures of community control over the delivery of health, education, child protection and policing services, and the achievement of a degree of self-governance, secure access to traditional lands, and the construction of facilities for preserving cultural artifacts and traditions) regularly experience heightened rates of youth suicide and early school leaving.”4

A second critical component to building strong internally resilient communities is to develop age-inclusive outreaches. Many grandparents feel incapable of helping their own grandchildren. There are two primary reasons for this;

  • Professionals who say it takes an advanced degree to help kids with such dire needs
  • The way many seniors often approach youth. 

A healthy grandparent/grandchild relationship needs to be based in active and directed listening. All too often seniors (like me), think our life experience gives us the right to advise. But young people rarely engage when being advised, in fact, most people—of any age—rarely engage when being advised. The majority of times a youth does trust someone enough to share their emotions, they aren’t looking for advice, they are looking for assistance in defining their intense emotions. 

The keys to a healthy response according to Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich in their classic book, “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and How To Listen So Kids Will Talk,” is to

  1. Listen with Full Attention
  2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word
  3. Give their feelings a name
  4. Give them their wishes in fantasy5

Many adults feel incompetent to help their own children and grandchildren which has been frequently endorsed by a society that separates people by age, socio-economic status and culture. Many only feel a professional can help their child, but it didn’t start this way and wise professionals in every field will do all they can to support and build the family—including multi-generational family.

The best way to prevent children from having to leave a community is to strengthen the community in preventative ways and the best way to do that is to deepen a culture of listening and the level of competence in families

REFERENCES

1Truth and Reconciliation; Calls to Action, this document may be found at www.trc.ca, Section 1:1

240 Developmental Assets for Adolescents may be found at www.search-institute.org

3The Developmental Assets Profile (DAP) may be found at www.search-institute.org

4Research on Aboriginal language knowledge and youth suicide, may be found at www.sciencedirect.com, Cognitive Development, 22 (2007), 392-399

5How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and How To Listen So Kids Will Talk, A. Faber and E. Mazlich, Scribner, (c) 1980, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich

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