Posts Tagged child welfare

The 2015 Revival of America’s Can-Do Spirit

Published by EducationNews.org — In 2015, let’s consider policies, decisions, architecture, whatever, in terms of whether or not they’re good for kids.

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A “can-do” spirit seems as fundamentally American as Mom and apple pie.  “Can do” has a super-encouraging tone of voice, the kind that kindergarten teachers use, or my mother when she assured us that “good manners can be fun!”  The “can-do” approach is determined, but light-hearted.  Yes of course Mickey (Rooney) and Judy (Garland) could gather the neighborhood kids to put on a show that raised money for a good cause, and do a bang up job to boot!

But in these cynical times, “can-do” sounds corny, even naive.  As everyone with a brain knows, Mr. Smith certainly does not go to Washington these days, and no, Virginia, there is no Santa.

So, sadly for modern kids, America’s “can-do” spirit feels as though it’s morphed into an appetite for advocacy.  Very argumentative.  If you’re for kids, you must be against someone else, like the taxpayer.  Advocates and the increasing need for everyone to speak in clear, sound-bite slogans can turn issues into impossible polarities — we’re either for Common Core or agin it; for environmentalism or against its costs; for guns or against freedom.  Advocacy definitely has its place, but by nature it promotes head-butting.

Somehow advocacy doesn’t really help kids feel the love.

Actually, “can do” is short for “We can do it,” an idea with a warmer, more embracing nature.  It returns the missing the “we” — who can do the love — and the “it,” the goal.

We can do it.  In 2015, we can surely do better by our kids.  The current situation is ridiculous.  By so many measures, American kids aren’t doing at all well, given their high rates of poverty, drugs, teen pregnancy, single-parent homes, failure to launch, educational under-achievement, etc.  Our kids’ stats are dismal compared with the rest of the developed world.  As with the healthcare crisis, Americans pump a boatload of money into the front end — into schools, juvenile justice, medicating bad behavior, and spoiling kids materially.  And then we get our famously mediocre results.  Kids need at least as much attention and press as healthcare, and I don’t consider obsessing about test scores to be attention to kids.

In 2015, let’s consider policies, decisions, actions, architecture, whatever, in terms of whether or not they’re good for kids.  This is a relatively easy mental exercise that would be useful for parents, political leaders, school staff, social-service administrators and adults in general.

So:  are juvenile-justice facilities good for kids?  Do they do what we want them to?  Do they teach feral kids the impulse control and community-appropriate behavior that we want from all youth?  Do suspensions?  If not, what would work?  How can adults generally inspire more of kids’ enthused cooperation, instead of mere compliance?

Are the parks fun?  Have concerns with safety been carried out to the point that we frighten kids needlessly and don’t let them learn resilience?  (There’s a sign in a local park that says “No running.”  Seriously.)

Is most TV good for kids?  (Who is it good for?)  Is hanging on electronics by the hour good for kids?  If not, is there anything for kids to do in their neighborhoods?  If not, does public transportation allow them to get to more interesting places safely and comfortably?  (It does in much of Europe.)  How about getting around under their own steam on bikes?  Do children and youth have enough autonomy these days?

The questions are infinite.  And when you start asking them, you wonder when was the last time we did strongly consider the interests of kids as we made decisions.

Actually, the international Child-Friendly Cities movement, nearly absent in the U.S., does exactly that:  looks at the world through the lens of the health and welfare of their kids.  They just had a conference in Odense, Denmark.  This year’s focus was on play.

Ask:  “Does this improve things for the kids?”  It’s an excellent sniff test for public and private decisions.  Congress and everyone else should take it up.

So let’s imagine that this coming year we’re going to become peacock proud of our collective parenting, as evidenced by more kids becoming young adults we enjoy sharing the earth with.  We’re Americans.  We so can do it!

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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A Fabulous Question Rescues a Teen’s Life

Published by EducationNews.org — Restoration needs a caring community to help offenders see the hurt and wretchedness they’ve inflicted on others.

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At the ripe old age of 13, the girl had already spent a couple of years being prostituted by her mother and taking all manner of drugs, thanks to Mom and the johns.  Nice, huh?  Among very young girls, the sex trade is less about the stereotypical pimp on the corner, and mostly about family members who see easy bucks and don’t think there’s anything all that wrong about it.  That’s not what today’s story is about; I’m just saying, ’cause most people don’t know.  Let’s call our 13-year-old “Charity.”

Minnesota child-protective services removed her from her home.  Apparently Mom came from an amazing family, because, as you’ll see, they went to great lengths to keep Charity out of foster care.  Not surprisingly, given what she’d been through, she was a hot mess.  Her rules were those of the mean streets, aggressive.  So living with kindly Grandma and Grandpa was not destined to be a great experience for any of them.  When the family gathered in a last ditch effort to save her, at the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Center, Grandma was still beside herself with rage about how horribly the girl had treated them.

After the grandparents had had it, Charity’s heroic uncle had taken her in.  But she was a beast there too.  One day she swiped the urn containing the ashes of the uncle’s partner’s parents off the mantle, smashing it and scattering its contents all over the living room.  That was it.  The partner was done.  The uncle could choose between them.

Try a restorative justice circle or become another bad social statistic.

Social services begged the family to talk it over one more time, in a circle process that Kris Miner, Director of SCVRJC, has honed into a near-science.  These days, courts, schools, social services and the local colleges routinely send her cases.  So Charity, her social worker, extended family and therapist met at SCVRJC.

Accountability circles are inevitably edgey, anxious, tearful.  Something bad has happened; people are upset; repair is urgent.  Skilled circle keepers (facilitators) reassure the parties that while such conversations are tough, everyone will have their say, and usually people walk away feeling better.  Keepers foster empathy so the group feels open to real repair, not vengeance, as they work toward a restoration plan.

In my experience, Miner’s circles are unique.  She spends the first full hour establishing a set of core values among the participants.  “I try to keep this part light-hearted.  We ask them to recall a fond memory of someone they’re close to, or who believed in them, and then ask what quality of that relationship makes it work.  They write it down on a paper plate.  The idea is to flood their brains with pleasantness so we can get to the compassion.  We’re helping people to get through the experience, to ease them into it so it’s safe and okay to be there.”

The great qualities of those close relationships are predictable:  trust, respect, forgiveness.  When ready, each person puts their picnic-paper plate on the floor in front of them, creating a circle of values — basically a cooler version of group norms.  Then Miner asks, “Can you commit to try your best to honor these values while we’re together?”  Only then does she dig in to the specifics of what happened, who was affected, and what on earth they can do to make things right.

Per reputation, Charity was horrible. 

Restoration only works if a caring community helps offenders see the hurt and wretchedness they’ve inflicted on others.  Some miscreants are already so out of reach, they’re beyond caring that other people care about them.  Charity’s circle was going sour; she wasn’t getting it.  While radically improving the odds of a good outcome, restoration is no guarantee.

Miner says, “The success of circles is all about asking useful questions, and the questions depend on who’s in front of you.”  That day Miner asked, “What was each person in the group doing when they were 13?”  This got Charity’s attention.  Every adult was once 13.  Charity was particularly struck that her therapist’s parents were in the Peace Corps at the time, in a place that sounded insane to Charity.  Well yeah, it was, said the therapist, but there was no alternative.  Charity finally connected with the participants when she could imagine them at her age.  They were proof that life went on, things changed, and here they are all those years later.  “Empathy really grew,” Miner says.

Charity wasn’t exactly repentant.  But she did arrive at the all-important point when the offender can see herself in the context of concerned people knocking themselves out to hang onto her but not the anti-social behavior.  Suddenly foster care looked really unappealing, especially as compared with making a good-faith effort to cooperate with her family.  Together the group hashed out a solution which had family members sharing the burden, providing generous respite care for the primary caretaker.  One kid saved.

Miner’s question brought a girl back.  No small feat.  Inspired restorative questions are this side of magic.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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