Hey Y’all! Kristie is a friend of mine who inquired about guest blogging. She works with at risk youth, and I think thats pretty awesome being that the children she works with daily are just like I was as a child. I hope that y’all enjoy her words as much as I did!
‘Answering the Call’ By: Kristie Stutler
Before the day I walked through those doors, the only experience I had working with kids was parenting my own children who were 10 and 8. Oh yes, and coaching Pee-Wee Cheerleaders. So, working with severely emotionally disturbed boys who had been removed from their homes for abuse and neglect, was not something I knew I could do. It wasn’t even something I wanted to do.
What happens to kids who are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services who have no family willing to take them in? What happens to kids who hit, bite, spit, cuss, refuse to follow rules, and throw things at others? What happens to kids who are adopted and then returned like animals to the shelter when their behavior becomes too difficult to manage?. I guess if I ever thought of it before, I would have assumed there was some magical place they went when they couldn’t stay where they were. Kind of like the fictional farm we tell children we are sending pets to when they die. (If there is a child reading this, that farm is totally real. That IS where your pet went.) I guess, truth be told, like most everyone else, I never considered it enough before to worry about where they went.
That was long ago, before I walked through those doors.
I learned in my interview that this facility served boys, adolescents, who had severe behavior problems. I learned that they lived there all the time in kind of dorm like settings. I learned that I would be trained in behavior management. I learned that I would be trained to physically restrain them when they got out of control. It did not escape me that my interviewer said WHEN they got out of control not IF they got out of control. Wow, I remember thinking, I am not sure I can do this.
After I passed the initial “sizing up” session, the man who did my interview walked me through one of the “units” where the boys lived. I say “sizing up” session because I truly believe that is what it was. He was telling me all of these bad things to see if I thought I could handle it. I wasn’t sure I could but I would never tell him that.
When you see a padded room with a large latch on the exterior for the first time, the image stays with you for awhile. This room was used for boys who got so out of control that they weren’t safe to be around others. It scared me. The sight of it was enough to run me off. I wasn’t sure I could handle this challenge, but I needed a job. No harm accepting it until I found something else.
I walked in nervous the first day with the boys. All of the boys who I was assigned to work with were much larger than me. I’m sassy so I could easily overcome the size difference but these boys were sad. As bad as their behavior was, their stories were ten times sadder. Stories of being hit, abandoned, not fed, and worst of all “returned to the state.” I learned that people could do that if the kid they adopted was too much for them to handle. My interviewer failed to tell me that I would hear all these sad stories. I left work that day doubting I could do the work. I would repeat that experience numerous times during the first three months. I would come in with enough hope to share and leave drained of every drop. Despite my growing attachment to the boys, I had made up my mind that I needed to find something else. This work was too heartbreaking for me to do.
I don’t remember how many days I repeated that ritual. I do remember that this eleven year old boy had gotten kicked out of the on campus school. He was yelling and cussing, threatening to hurt others. He was larger than me by at least 5 inches and outweighed me by 50 pounds. I took him to the padded room so he could calm down. Instead of calming down, he began jumping up and down screaming at the top of his lungs. He was angry at the teacher and was clearly shouting words, but because he was jumping up and down, the words were less than clear. I watched him for a few minutes wondering what the best possible intervention for this behavior was. They failed to discuss this in behavior management training or even in all of those psychology classes I took in college. I approached him and he began yelling louder. At a loss, I joined him. I began jumping up and down, making crazy noises back at him. He stopped and stood still, staring at me like I had gone mad. I continued. I began yelling words at him the way he had done at me. Call it desperation. Call it crazy. I had a point to prove.
He looked at me quizzically and said “I can’t understand you.”
I stopped and stared at him the way I would my own children to let them know I was disapproving of their behavior. “Right,” I said, “Just like I can’t understand you. If you want people to listen, then you sit down and talk, you don’t yell at them like a crazy person.”
He laughed at me and sat down on the floor. I joined him.
For the first time since I walked through those doors, I thought, perhaps, I CAN do this.
Somewhere along the way, CAN turned to MUST.
Fifteen years and thousands of boys after that first day, I got a call.
I picked up.
The voice on the other end of the phone said, “You have stories to tell.”
The voice wasn’t wrong.
We all have stories.
And we shouldn’t be afraid to jump up and down to get people to hear them.