My first job as a social worker was at an inpatient rehab with teenage kids from the inner city in NY, who were mandated by court. A lot of them had serious charges & some came straight from Riker’s Island. These kids all arrived angry, scared, lost, preoccupied about what others thought of them but wouldn’t dare let you know, & confused. Main thing I noticed was their lack of TRUST in people. Kids who had to grow up fast & experienced things adults couldn’t even fathom. I remember thinking, “How the hell can I help these kids?” & yes of course they will test you & try to break you. & some of the staff were blatantly obviously afraid of being tested & god forbid would admit to being wrong sometimes.
To counteract the attempts by the kids to “test” you, all you had to do was just be vulnerable & raw. They just wanted someone who would be straight with them. Someone who was fair. Some of the staff I noticed took that process way too personally. If you are a living proof example, authentic, & caring with healthy boundaries, & can even laugh at yourself from time to time, there was no need to work harder than you needed to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to protect yourself & there were plenty of times where I had to show my assertive side, but it wasn’t as often as you would think. I refused to work harder than I had to, & all we can do is our best anyway.
As adults & “professionals”, we are also allowed to make mistakes. I noticed sometimes it was hard for adults to portray vulnerability such as admitting when they were wrong. It was super easy to point out the kids mistakes though. We’re all human anyway right? & wouldn’t that model good behavior for them if we ourselves are not ashamed to own up? NO ONE likes a hypocrite.
I had a teenage boy as a client who was part of a gang & experienced horrific unspeakable things in his life. Anyway, I remember in session he told me he couldn’t believe people could actually genuinely care. He thought, for instance, I was “too positive” & couldn’t believe that it could be real, without some sort of agenda. A lot of them lost their trust in people & their anger were results of constant disappointments. “Hurt people, hurt people,” was a quote they seemed to resonate with I noticed. These kids were often doubted & even a lot of the staff members just wanted to “send them back to jail,” because they were deemed hopeless. Again, not to excuse behaviors, & not everyone can be rehabilitated, but more often than not, people have potential. Even as a young staff member who just graduated, my methods were questioned & doubted. When my bosses weren’t looking, miracles were happening everyday, but they were behind closed doors & hidden so there was no recognition.
So I remember saying to myself I need some sort of proof that these kids have more to them than meets the eye & that maybe they can have faith in different approaches to treatment as well. So one day in front of EVERYONE, all the staff members & other kids, my caseload conducted a presentation. Now these presentations usually no one took seriously & staff would assume the kids wouldn’t put that much effort into it because more often than not they didn’t, & more often than not, neither did the staff. Too often we give in when kids are putting on a front pretending they don’t want you to believe in them. They all deep down have that inner child. I don’t care what they say.
So, they got up & made a speech about change, that included their life story. They presented a bus they painted & cut out & the back of the bus represented where they started in life & the front of the bus illustrated where they were going. They put originality into their speeches instead of being forced to read from a piece of paper that didn’t include themselves. One girl never sang in her life in front of people but had an amazing voice (14 years old). She was shaking & at first when it was time for her to sing she put her head down & tried running away. Then her peers cheered her on & the room got quiet & she sang her hear out. She sang the song “Rise Up”. There were tears in the audience & old judgments & beliefs were now proven wrong.
Most of the time it takes just ONE person to believe in you. I didn’t even believe in my own capabilities. Never underestimate not only yourself, but others as well!