breaking barriers

Avoiding Sparks: On the Road to Independence

By: April Carthorn, RHYTTAC General Specialist, National Safe Place Network

Homelessness is not a choice. Too often a young person’s decision to leave home is the healthiest (and only) option available to them. Some have no choice as they are forced from their homes at the hands of their guardians. Many flee because of issues such as family conflict, sexual orientation, poverty, abuse and neglect, while others may become entangled in substance abuse, gangs, and addiction problems.

Once a young person is homeless, it is very difficult to transition out. Age restrictions prevent many youth from accessing housing / shelters thus making it hard for them to connect with services to help end their homelessness. Transitioning youth also face barriers when trying to get their own housing. Paying rent and bills is virtually impossible with a part-time minimum wage job and many landlords will not rent to youth. Therefore, many youth are forced to remain hidden or move to the streets.

Without proper housing, food, and support systems, the health of a youth experiencing homelessness is at risk. Homeless youth have higher rates of HIV and other STIs and face a greater risk for developing anxiety and depression as compared to housed youth. It is difficult to grow into a healthy adult when you’re unhealthy, poorly nourished, and stressed.

While this paints a bleak picture, we can prevent youth homelessness by making sure young people know where to turn when their home is not safe. Most youth at risk of being homeless leave difficult home situations or age out of foster care to find themselves without a safe sanctuary, something we all need and appreciate. Everyone likes to come home and close the door behind them and feel safe. Many at-risk youth and young adults do not have this opportunity.

While most youth are resilient and want to move forward, there are a number of barriers for someone who is unprepared to be independent. Most youth who have aged out of care or have had to leave home lack experience in independence and therefore need a helping hand up. Searching for safe accommodations can be complicated, stressful, and hopeless if the youth / young adult is suffering from mental health concerns such as depression, stress disorders, substance abuse, and a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.

What You Can Do To Help Avoid the Sparks:

Many youth / young adults ages 18-24 tend to take increased risk to figure out which career, educational, and financial path they want to pursue. Being a supportive ally can help foster a positive transition into adulthood and provide young people a chance to explore opportunities, develop financial independence, and create healthy, lifelong relationships.

  • Empower youth to make decisions. Youth / young adults have often been left out of critical decisions made about their lives. It is important to allow the young person take charge of his or her own future while you listen, help guide, and support. During daily interactions, provide youth with frequent opportunities to make decisions and to learn from consequences, both positive and negative.
  • Communicate high expectations. Far too often, youth / young adults have heard more about their limitations than about what they can achieve. Send positive messages about future possibilities. Offer forward-looking comments into everyday conversation. For example, use phrases such as “when you go on to college…” or “when you start your own business…” as opposed to phrases like “if you go to college.”
  • Start early. Find ways to introduce important concepts to younger youth. For example, talk with a pre-teens about the value of education and saving for long-term goals.
  • Decrease control and increase youth responsibilities gradually. While allowing youth to make choices, be clear about boundaries. Involve youth in setting rules and establishing appropriate consequences related to their behavior. Allow young people to learn and practice adult life skills with your support.
  • Help to identify at least one reliable, caring adult in a young person’s life who can serve as a stable, ongoing connection and can provide support pre-and-post-transition into adulthood.
  • Encourage the development of positive peer support networks through participation in constructive group activities with others who share similar likes and experiences.
  • Be an effective coach who listens, advises, and provides youth / young adults with opportunities to learn and practice new skills.  Do not shoot down their ideas.
  • Advocate for youth rights as they relate to employment, housing, education, medical and mental health care, court proceedings, and social needs.
  • Remind young people of their responsibilities related to self commitment, citizenship, character, and fairness and generosity toward others.
  • Recognize successes and celebrate ALL achievements and milestones on the path to adulthood.
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Pride Isn’t an End. It’s a Beginning.

By: Jama Shelton, LMSW, PhD, Deputy Executive Director for True Colors Fund

Pride Month is not only an opportunity for homeless youth programs to celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) young people with whom they work, it’s also a time for youth-serving agencies to come out as visible allies of all young people. Sometimes youth serving organizations may not celebrate Pride Month if they think it isn’t relevant to the youth within their programs. Even if you aren’t aware of any LGBT identified youth (or youth who may be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity) within your programs, chances are, they’re there! In fact, 99% of the service providers we surveyed for our Serving Our Youth Report said they work with LGBT youth in their homeless youth programs. Less than one percent reported not working with LGBT youth. Pride Month is a perfect opportunity to let these young people know that you see them, stand with them, and support them.

Pride Month is a time to be, well… proud! It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of LGBT people and communities. And we’ve had no lack of accomplishments lately! Laverne Cox continues to excel at her craft, while also raising awareness about the unjust treatment of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, in our country. Over the past few months, Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to live as her true self has made headlines worldwide, and introduced the topic of transgender identity to a whole new audience. Let us be proud of and celebrate these incredible women!

Let us also recognize that many LGBT young people struggle to survive in families and communities that are not yet able to accept or celebrate them. According to service providers we surveyed, LGBT youth continue to be overrepresented within the population of youth experiencing homelessness, and identity-based family rejection continues to be the primary reason for their homelessness. While Laverne and Caitlyn are making their ways into households all over the world via mainstream media, transgender youth are being forced out of their homes and face great difficulty finding adequate support once on the street.

While updating our report this year, we asked service providers about their experiences working with transgender youth separately from their experiences with cisgender LGB youth in order to better understand how to support transgender youth. Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Organizational staff report average increases in the proportion of LGBT youth they serve. This change is higher for transgender youth.
  • Service providers were more likely to report that transgender youth experience homelessness for longer periods of time than cisgender LGB youth.
  • Transgender youth were estimated to have experienced bullying, family rejection, and physical and sexual abuse at higher rates than their LGB counterparts.
  • The number one need for LGBT youth experiencing homelessness, as identified by providers, was housing. Providers also identified transition-related support as a critical need for transgender youth. Transition-related supports include access to legal support, name/gender marker change, access to healthcare specific to transgender youth, access to hormones, and emotional support.

So why am I bringing this up during Pride Month, a time when celebrations of LGBT identity abound? Because not all LGBT community members are accepted, much less celebrated, in their families and in their communities. This June, I challenge you not only to celebrate, but also to educate within your organizations and communities. Increasing visibility is important, but let’s not stop there. It’s an important first step in creating a safe and inclusive society, but when Pride Month is over and the parades have ended, what will have changed for the LGBT youth experiencing homelessness in your community?

This June, I am proud to work alongside many of you in communities around the country as you commit to making your programs and services safe and affirming for all youth. I encourage you to celebrate the LGBT youth you serve not only during the month of June, but all year. If you’d like suggestions on how to do that, contact us at the True Colors Fund. We’re happy to help!

True Colors Fund, National Safe Place Network NSPNsights Blog, Pride Month 2015

True Colors Fund, National Safe Place Network NSPNsights Blog, Pride Month 2015

True Colors Fund, National Safe Place Network NSPNsights Blog, Pride Month 2015

True Colors Fund, National Safe Place Network NSPNsights Blog, Pride Month 2015

True Colors Fund, National Safe Place Network NSPNsights Blog, Pride Month 2015

True Colors Fund, National Safe Place Network NSPNsights Blog, Pride Month 2015

Breaking Down Barriers: Working with Children, Youth, and Families Impacted by “Disabilities”

By: Dee Blose, Executive Director, Youth & Family Services, Inc.

We all have a “disability” of sorts.  I wear glasses.  Without them I would be lost in this world.  Glasses are basically my accommodation to help me better access my environment.  They help me be the best that I can be!

That is the purpose of any accommodation for someone that learns, processes, or accesses the world in a different way.  If we could think of “disabilities” as mere differences, rather than a weakness, then we have made the first step to break down a barrier for our clients.

I have had the amazing opportunity to get to know a group of children, youth and young adults with a variety of “abilities” through some of our programing here at Youth & Family Services, Inc. in El Reno, Oklahoma.  We have a partnership with AutismOklahoma.org, a state-wide parent driven autism support system.  Through that partnership we assist with a couple of summer camps, and a year round social/entrepreneurial club called Bee’s Knees.

What we have found through working with a variety of children, youth and young adults on the autism spectrum is that they are more like the rest of us than different!  And that is where our common ground lies.  Finding those “touch points” where our interests can intersect give us the perfect space to come together and share, communicate, and grow together.  Music, animals, art, and hobbies all offer this common ground that we can join together celebrating.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had with Bee’s Knees was attendance at an art show showcasing their artwork.  Youth that are quiet, non-social, suddenly open up about their art, especially when their art is about an interest of theirs.  Art about computers, video games, electronics, movies, books, animals, whatever is their passion all the sudden leads to communication and socializing.  It is a glorious sight to see them engage.  One particular young man will take a strangers arm and gently lead them over to his work.  Although he has a stutter, he is adamant that he describes his work in detail.  It always seems to actually have a complete story, a beginning and an end.  One of his works describes the process of renting a video game, everything from ordering it on-line to the postman delivering it to his mailbox, to him enjoying it (artwork included below).

gamefly

Without common ground opportunities, this type of communication would be lost, never even heard in the context of a public event or public opportunity.  It would rather be a topic of a social skills conversation where a therapist would be challenging this youth to NOT talk about his video game, but to try and stay to more “socially appropriate” topics.  I don’t know about you but one of my favorite things to talk about are my current interests, so why would they be any different?

Developing programs that capitalize on their interest and their strengths opens up the world to new possibilities.  Suddenly these barriers become moments of enlightenment and new human interactions, new appreciations for different points of wonder, new experiences from both directions.

Consider as you are identifying “barriers” to participation for children, youth, and families impacted by “disabilities” that you look at it in an entirely different way.  If you were on their side of the “barrier” what would be important to you?  Where would you want to interface and engage?  What have you got to showcase to the world?  Then build a program or event or activity from that perspective, inviting all the rest of the world (or group) to join.  It may very well be that the barrier we have erected is basically only perceived from the original perspective.  You may very well now not see a barrier, but rather a bridge that connects us all together into one glorious group of humans that can laugh, sing, dance, and participate as complimenting spirits in the program we call “life”.

For more information about Youth & Family Services in El Reno, Oklahoma, visit their website: http://www.yfsok.org/

For more information about Bee’s Knees visit their website: http://beeskneesart.com/ 

To see a full length movie (one hour) about Swanky Art Camp, including meeting many campers on the autism spectrum, view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MMDSzqtwww 

To get more general disability accommodation information, visit this websitehttp://www.aucd.org/itac/template/index.cfm