How risky is s/he?

I get asked this all the time. ALL the time! In some circles it’s almost become the main talking point – as if all the other factors in a child’s life are somehow secondary.

In fact, if you think about it, talking about risk isn’t usually about this child’s life at all – it’s usually about their impact on others.

Even when the focus of the so-called ‘risk’ is risk TO the child, the concern is often about the ‘fall-out’ for professionals if something goes wrong.

Language effects everything

Language uses words which, in turn, both reflect and form our thinking. It’s reciprocal, if you like.

For example, if I think of a teenager as a ‘young adult’ this will reflect my thinking – that they are almost grown up, can take responsibility for their actions, reason things through and make informed decisions, etc.

It will also have a series of knock-on ideas which form my thinking – that they actually aren’t very good at some of these things which, as a ‘young adult’ they should be good at ‘by now.’

The way we talk about troubled children and their families is a key way of being child-centred, I believe – because it effects everything else.

Getting our language right…

Here are some of the ways our language can further the interests of troubled kids:

Accuracy: making sure the words we use are correct – accurate – is helpful. It’s a great starting point. This IS a ‘child’ so let’s use that term – at least when talking to other professionals. Being factual helps keep things clear and correct. Perhaps more important still, it stops those who want to punish and meet out strident responses, from making their case – it’s a lot harder to do so when the subject is a ‘child’ than it is if they’re a ‘young man/woman’ or even a ‘young person.’

Access: I’m sitting in a meeting today with some of the top people in the field of youth justice and mental health. My job takes me there and I feel the privilege of it – I like it. But when we find ourselves in any setting, we have an opportunity. Such opportunities can be missed so easily through the distraction of process, policy and other priorities (often unhelpful ones!). We have the chance to use our access to people of influence, in settings that children can’t enter, to move things on for them.

– Advocacy: talking less about risk and more about ‘needs’ or ‘vulnerabilities,’ less about problems and issues and more about progress made. Less about resource limitations and more about rights – all of these place the child’s needs central. This is advocacy. Those of us whose roles take us into people houses, into the details of their lives and their struggles are best placed to be the voice of those who struggle to speak for themselves – let’s speak up and use that power for their good.

– Affirmation: common to many of the children and young people we encounter at work, is the lack of real affirmation. Most kids grow up with someone – at least one parent – who is nuts about them, who encourages them and boosts their confidence through these and other such affirmations. As professionals who know and work with kids who lack this, we have a golden opportunity to regularly use our words to build them up, boost their confidence and challenge the negative self-concept so many of them have. Words are powerful like that!

Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts.” – George Matthew Adams

Final word…

In the rush and pressures of work, it’s easy to forget how powerful we are. Our words are powerful weapons in the fight against adverse childhood experiences and great resilience builders in the struggle for recovery.

Let’s use them wisely, deliberately and often!

Related previous posts…

– A Model to help troubled kids recover (TRM)…

– The Power of Encouragement…

– Redeemability…

– Teenagers & Child Protection…

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2019

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