Characteristics of Focus of a Supportive Program
To be effective, every aspect of a child and youth caring program must have a focus of support for the young people they serve. Within the context of a program, support can take on many forms in many different areas. The following are some characteristics we think are important to focus on in order to create an effective, supportive program. While we believe that safety is central to all healing, the rest of the characteristics are in no particular order as they each hold their own level of importance.
A focus on Safety
Physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and relational safety are necessary for a positive group care experience. This includes recognizing and responding, in a healing manner, to the needs of race, sexual orientation and identities, religion, regional uniqueness, and unique family systems.
Without the experience of ‘felt safety’ a young person will be unable to experience trust in relation with us.
A focus on Program Culture
Culture is not only defined by ethnicity, but also the young person’s familiar rituals and routines. The culture within the program becomes the normal ‘way of being’ for everyone within that program. Promoting a supportive culture will help increase the young person’s sense of safety as they experience predictability through rituals, routines and everyday life events in the program.
A focus on Reflective Practice
In our practice we engage in constant reflection. Wondering, for example, what needs are being met through the behaviours we see or experience, how are things connected, what might happen if I do this or that? This constant wondering and curiosity help us to avoid being stuck in our own preconceived, habitual ways of thinking, acting and being.
A focus on the Experience of Self in Relationship
Relationships in CYC work are not about being friends or simply feeling good about one another. Relationships are the experiences where new, more satisfying experiences of self can develop. Given that all change occurs in the context of a relationship, they are central to the healing experience and the young person’s experience of self in relationship is an important focus. How do I experience myself: as worthy, as significant, as of value? Or something less positive? Many of the young people with whom we work would benefit from a different experience of self in relationship with significant others.
A focus on Meaning-Making
We all have to make sense out of what we experience. It is our way of organizing our experience so that we understand it and how to respond to it. When we focus on ‘meaning making’, we focus on what things mean to the other, as well as to ourselves. A constant wondering about “what this means to them?” helps us to avoid the error of thinking that “what it means to us” is the real meaning. It is through understanding what something means to a young person, that we are able to understand their actions.
A focus on Relational Practice
Effective CYC practice is focused on the quality and characteristics of the “co-created in-between between us”, that space we refer to as relationship. Is it a place of safety, of fear, or learning? We are constantly asking ourselves “how is what I am doing, or thinking of doing, likely to impact on the in-between between us?” and “How available am I to others?”
A focus on Mattering
We all need to matter, to feel that we are of value or significance. In our work with young people we are constantly demonstrating that “we hear you, we see you, we care about you. you matter!”
A focus on Family
Too often young people in group care are isolated from their family psychologically, emotionally and/or physically. This can be intensified by program rules and practices which may separate them further. Family involvement in the day to day life of a program, in daily decision making, and in the healing program is essential to overcoming this sense of isolation. As well, understanding a young person’s family and their position in their family helps us better understand the young person, their actions and their interpretations of experiences.
A focus on Individuality
Each young person in care is unique, special, and individual. When programs treat everyone the same, no one is special. Individualized programs, differential interventions, and unique responses help the young person to realize that they are different from others, in a special sort of way. This focus on individuality extends to the individualization of our messages of caring and mattering.
A focus on Needs
Constantly we are asking ourselves ‘what needs of the young person are being met through their actions or behavior?’. When we help a young person to find new ways to meet that need which is more satisfying to them, then the previous behavior is not necessary. We also attend to what needs of our own are being met through our actions.
A focus on ‘Response-Able’ Expectations
As we understand each young person as an individual, we also understand them to be at unique developmental stages. We understand that young people must have the ability to respond to our expectations before we expect them to achieve. It is important to remember to respect the young person’s developmental level when learning, while not underestimating their capabilities.
A focus on Helping Through Involvement in Daily Life Events
When we focus on helping through our involvement in their daily life events, we focus on helping young people where they live and experience their lives. When they experience success, they experience success in living. By focusing on the moments within daily life events, we can draw attention to the opportunities that might otherwise be missed.
A focus on Strength and Success
A program that is success focused is distinctly different, in practice and experience, than the one that is problem focused. In times of pressure we can sometimes focus on deficits and may miss the opportunity to see the strength and resilience that youth can exhibit. It is important that adults focus on optimism as young people may need support to see the resilience in themselves to create optimism for their future. We all need hope for the future.
A focus on Commitment
Young people in care have often lived in a variety of settings. Too often, they have moved through various group care programs never finding a place to belong. It can often be difficult to ‘hang in’ with young people who challenge us, but it is exactly what we need to do. When we ‘hang in’, the opportunities for healthy connections, the development of trust, and the opportunity to learn new ways of being, are created
A focus on Fun
Fun is a basic need for all and inclusion of fun within a program can create an opportunity to connect, to heal, and to bring a little joy into the youth’s lives. Adults in these programs create experiences for young people to enjoy. The understanding of each young person’s likes and dislikes is imperative in ensuring the young person receives a safe, enjoyable experience.
““My favorite part of programming is that we go out
and have fun.”
- HomeBridge Youth