Count to 10
They have had so many adults walk out of their life, they expect that you are going to be the same and let them down, so it’s about never giving up and never letting them down. We’ve all hung in there together with Jason and he is hanging in there with us just as tightly.
Suzie, Youth Worker, Marist Youth Care.
Marist Youth Care is a non-for-profit agency focussed on helping young people at risk and their families. With over 100 years experience, our programs and services have been specifically developed to give young people the support and skills they need to take their rightful place in the community.
Eleven-year-old Jason wasn’t safe living at home with his mum so went to stay with his aunt and uncle. They did their best to care for him, however due to the traumatic experiences he had before coming into care, Jason could be really violent which made it unsafe for him to live with them. FACS looked to Marist Youth Care to find him a safe place to live in one of their residential homes. This story is about how five Marist Youth Care youth workers rallied around Jason to help him manage his anger and set him on the right path.
Donna: When Jason came to live in the house, the first thing I did was to take him for an ice cream to have a bit of a chat. I wanted to prepare him for what life in our house was like and tell him a little bit about the other boys who lived there. He hardly spoke. I could see he was really nervous about what was happening and where he was going. I let him know he could ask me any questions he wanted.
After the initial shock of the move, I soon realised Jason had a real problem with his temper and very little patience. He would be ticked off at the drop of a hat. He was like a volcano. The other kids at the house could see how easy it was to rile him up so they would make him angry. I told him he had to try and count to 10 in his head before he said or did anything.
A little while later he knocked on my door and said, ‘Donna they are really, really giving me the shits but I’m counting!’. The others eventually got bored and he came back to me and said ‘It works!’. This was how I started to build some trust with Jason.
Faisal: Jason was erratic and his temper was intense so he has a psychologist who helps him. This clinical support also helps our team better understand the trauma Jason experienced before he came into care and how we can best help him heal. We soon realised that talking a lot when Jason was having a meltdown didn’t work. He needed space and time, so we made sure all the team knew this approach worked best.
This is how we work with all the k ids, we have regular meet ings, including with the young people, to discuss what’s been happening. We make sure we are all on the same page and are being consistent.
Adam: Jason was a fussy eater when he came to us and would just pick at his food. Since then we’ve introduced him to new foods and his taste has really grown, he now loves things like coconut and pineapple which he had never tried before. Jason also does the shopping with us so he can be part of planning meals and have a say about what goes in the trolley. I make sure Jason and the other boys talk to the people in the shop, unload the trolley and pay for the groceries so they feel part of the community and not just think the house is their whole world. We want them to be healthy and happy but we also need to make sure they have basic life skills. Jason’s confidence has really grown as we give him greater responsibilities – it’s great to see.
Suzie: I think it’s important that we show we have trust in young people – it’s not just about young people having trust in us. It really gives Jason a boost when I let him do something independently.
Recently he wanted to go down the road on his own, buy something and come back to the house, just like the older boys do. I could 92 ● Shining a light on good practice in NSW | 2014 tell how proud he was when he came home and had done this all by himself.
I have also taught him how to budget by using lay-by. He gets pocket money each week if he does his chores and if he wants to buy something expensive like a DVD or new Lego, we put it on lay-by. He understands now that if he saves his money faster, he gets what he wants more quickly. It’s just a really simple way to encourage good money management from a young age.
Chelsea: I’m fairly new to the house and I could tell how important the life story work was for Jason from the minute I walked in the door. Jason ran up to me and started showing me all the photos in his book, he told me he had a new baby cousin and in the photo was a toy that used to belong to him. Jason felt like this toy was his gift to the baby and felt a real connection to his family through the photos. We make sure this is updated all the time so even though Jason can’t live with his family right now, he is still a part of their lives and he in theirs.
Faisal: One of the important things we do for our young people is organise excursions away from the house. They get to see the world, learn about new places and it helps them get along with each other. It also improves their social skills and confidence by making them adapt to new surroundings and talk to new people. Neglect takes many forms and often our young people have led limited lives without exposure to new places or experiences.
Donna: The other day I took Jason and another one of our other boys to Goulburn for the day. Jason just loved it. He loved the lookout, the old junk shop, the Big Merino and stopping for lunch. It was such a simple day really and it just shows that our kids have often never been outside of their own suburb. Seeing how excited Jason was to buy an old tin toy car from the junk shop was beautiful. He told me when we got back he wants to take his kids to Goulburn when he grows up, so I think in a small way we are showing Jason what life can be like in stable home, even if it is just a drive on a cold day.
Adam: I like to look at ways to make home life fun and happy for Jason and all the young people at the house. I spend a lot of time with Jason building Lego – one of his favourite things to do. Being a k id is meant to be fun but for a lot of our boys they have missed out on normal childhood experiences. I believe in the power of play.
Beato: He is great with his hands and we talk about how one day he may go into a trade where he can use his skills in a job. He even brought his own tool kit with him to the house, so we knew straight away we had to encourage this passion.
He loves riding his bike and fixing it. He makes me help, which is really just holding the bike for him while he does everything. He loves pulling things apart and putting them back together. The other day he set about fixing a side table that had broken in the house.
He started to get frustrated when a tool wouldn’t work so I said to him, ‘What do you do when you start getting angry?’ and he said, ‘I need to count and go to my room and breathe deeply’. So off he went and calmed down, then came back to his tools. I was so proud of Jason for being able to tell me what he had to do and then go and do it of his own accord. He had remembered all the conversations we’d had in the past and really showed me how far he’d come.
Suzie: I was driving to work a few weeks ago and realised I didn’t have any water in my car, so when I pulled up to the house I started to fill it up. Jason saw me and came out to ask what I was doing. Straight away he wanted to help and then asked if we could do the other two cars at the house. This time he did it on his own saying ‘I’ll do this and you watch to make sure I get it right’.
Jason was so excited to be able to do that on his own and it’s great to see his confidence grow when he learns new skills.
Donna: Jason is more aware of being respectful and apologising when he does something wrong. The other night he swore at me and later when I was doing some paperwork he came to see me. I told him I was busy and he said ‘No Donna wait, I want to say sorry before I go to bed,’ which was huge coming from him. It is something we all try to model in the house. None of us are perfect and it’s good to be able to show him it’s okay if you do something wrong but you have to take responsibility for it.
Faisal: All of the hard work at home is paying off with Jason’s schooling as well. Jason goes to a special school that understands his needs. He loves going to school and particularly science class. At the last parent-teacher night we went to, the teachers told us how happy they were with Jason’s school work and behaviour since coming into our care. Chelsea
If I had to say to another practitioner why our work with Jason has paid off in the eight months he has been with us, I would say it’s about being personally invested in the young people you are working with and believing they can make the changes they need to.
Suzie: They have had so many adults walk out of their lives, they expect you are going to be the same and let them down. It’s about never giving up and never letting them down.
We’ve all hung in there together with Jason and he is hanging in there with us just as tightly.
Jason’s aunt wrote the following letter to thank Marist Youth Care
Dear House Manager and Team,
I am writing to you today to say thank you on behalf of all my family. My much loved and very missed nephew Jason has been living in this house for the past five months.
In this time we have been privileged to meet all the team who are such beautiful people, that have been so respectful and understanding to Jason and my family.
We have been able to see that your team have managed to build relationships with Jason and he has been able to express himself by speaking about all the carers in a very positive and respectful manner.
In a very emotional and distressing situation for any child, Jason has become more relaxed and acceptable of the care and support he is provided in the home and is able to discuss with me his emotions and feelings and willingness to accept help on how to manage his anger and behaviour towards himself and others.
Jason is now able to recognise his own feelings and speaks about trying to control how he acts out these emotions and I feel this reflects the support he is receiving in the house.
You would all be aware that Jason has difficulty in socialising with others appropriately and the ability to trust that allows a person to build and develop meaningful relat ionships. I have witnessed all the carers gain Jason’s trust and respect, which could only be the result of the commitment they all have to be posit ive role models to the children in their care.
Jason and my family have found his separation from us all very hard to accept and understand and to be able to move forward. We are reassured that he is supported by the highest quality of carers any family could only wish for in this situation.
You are a very special team of people and should all be so proud of the support and care each member provides to the children and the families involved.
Dr Wendy Foote
Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies.
When he left his mother, and then later left his aunt and uncle, Jason must have felt very alone and afraid. The residential unit, with its team approach, and 24-hour staff support, were perfect for the behavioural challenges that he had. The team at the residential unit provided him with high levels of support and equipped him with strategies to mange his intense reactions so that he was safe. The consistent and skilled support by all the team was the foundation on which he learnt and practiced using these strategies.
This story tells us about the power of being ‘psychologically held’ and supported by a skilled residential team. Young people who have been traumatised like Jason, need a safe environment to develop a mastery over their own reactions. Most of all I loved that Jason had a chance to practice the art of relationship-building and maintenance – how to make restitution, how to say sorry, and how to take responsibility for his own mistakes. This is a skill that will take him a long way, and is likely to help him make and maintain relationships throughout his life. Well done Marist Youth Care youth workers, and well done Jason!