I often get asked from people who don’t work at Covenant house “What is the most important work you do with youth”. My response is always anything and everything! We spend all day with the youth, interacting, talking, caring and supporting them. Not only are we getting to know the youth but they are getting to know us. They notice everything we do, the way we act, respond, talk, laugh everything, you never know when some action, gesture or word that is perceived as insignificant could have an impact on them.
Kathy was a young girl who came to Covenant House subsequent to her running away from home. Kathy’s childhood was one of instability, violence and degradation. She never experienced a nurturing living environment and was insulted and belittled daily. Her childhood consisted of bouncing between foster care homes then finally back to her family home. At a young age she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
While in our Crisis Program Kathy’s anxiety was explicit. We all as a team would encourage her to use her skills and what she has learnt in the past to help her overcome feelings of distress. On one occasion, we went on an outing to observe a parade. After a few minutes at the parade Kathy felt overwhelmed and became increasingly distressed, her whole body shaking and she had a fixed stare. We walked up a quieter street and sat on a bench side by side. I asked her to let me know what would support her at that moment. Nothing was said. There was complete silence between the both of us for nearly 10 minutes. After this Kathy initiated conversation and asked to walk along the outskirts of the parade where there were less people, which we did.
The next day Kathy came to me and thanked me for what I had done. I was confused and didn’t understand what she was referring to. She said “thanks for being there with me, it really helped”. Although I felt I had no part to play and Kathy had utilized her skills to overcome her anxiety, according to Kathy, by simply “being there” supported her to do this. So yes, every interaction we have with the youth is important, you never know what meaning it can have for them!