By LeesaMaree Bleicher
Last year’s conference was the first professional conference where I’ve presented. As with all first things, it was a mixture of bitter and sweet. When I arrived I remember being enchanted by the calm vibration that infused the air and the gentle buzz of people milling about; mostly I remember the awe of being surrounded by so many distinguished men and women. I was delighted and frightened by the idea of speaking before so many accomplished individuals. I was worried about the intensity of my convictions. How could I tame them into a message that people would hear? How do I express the longing in my heart to encourage others to express themselves more from their hearts and less from learned academics ? How do I express to a field so restricted by boundaries to break those boundaries for the better? How do I tell my story and the stories of the youth I cared for in a way that people will hear and understand? In the end, I spoke from my heart and it didn’t come out like I had hoped it would but I learned much from my experience, and I walked away both humbled and motivated.
In stark contrast to this gathering of innovative, heart-centered people who were committed to finding better answers to caring for our youth, I recently became saddened and angered by an article I read that described how our most troubled youth are treated. It spoke about the level system, seclusion, restraints and heavy medications. I became sick as I read on.
We know our most troubled youth are survivors of some of the most horrific and heinous acts of extreme cruelty: sexual, physical and emotional abuse—acts so unimaginably atrocious that its amazing they survived at all. And in the hell they endured, they emerged with habits of self harm, skewed thinking. They aren’t all that well behaved.
We take them in and treat them no better and perhaps worse than their abusers.
We really should know better.
I am ashamed to say I am part of a field that takes these children in and often treats them so unkindly, part of a system that often re-traumatizes them and all-t0o-often hesitates to show kindness.
I don’t want to be part of a world where I cannot hug or comfort a child who is telling me they were raped or beaten, and sadly these are all to often the stories I hear. It is tragic that—because of a few creepy people that have cared for youth and victimized them—that many people in our field have become afraid to be demonstrative of love and kindness with a child.
If you care for youth, truly care, then you have an obligation to take a stand and demand we infuse this field with more compassion.
Compassion is a state of being, but it’s also an act of doing, demonstrated by giving hugs when needed.
As we come together during this year’s conference, wherever we each stand on these fundamental issues of interacting with our youth, we must agree: If we are truly being mindful, we cannot ignore the need for more compassionate practices when caring for youth.