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Thursday, November 17, 2011

At-risk Children Need Us All


The National Center for School Engagement promotes programs for "at-risk" youth. NCSE states that the term at-risk youth typically implies a future with less than optimal outcomes. Youth are considered at-risk for a number of reasons. Examples include youth who may be:

* Homeless or transient
* Involved in drugs or alcohol
* Abused sexually, physically or emotionally
* Mentally ill
* Neglected at home or live in stressful family environments
* Lacking social or emotional supports
* Involved with delinquent peers


These at-risk youth are often identified after running away, skipping school, drinking under age, engaging in sexual behavior, displaying disruptive behavior, bullying/harassment, fighting, and committing acts of vandalism. According to NCSE, "These behaviors can be precursors to dropping out of school, acquiring low paying jobs and/or unemployment, and adult criminal behavior." ("At-risk Youth," National Center for School Engagement, schoolengagement.org)

Do we really comprehend the stress 21st century kids are under?  Gang warfare, street stabbings and shootings, proliferation of drugs, binge drinking and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases -- all of these obstacles to a safe, healthy lifestyle put their very lives in jeopardy.

It is evident the youth of today need tremendous help and guidance to navigate successfully the hazardous waters of their lives. Often, the support necessary for enabling them to acquire their needs is lacking in their very homes and communities. What happens when children experience a significant mismatch between their circumstances and needs? In America, so many people depend upon the public school to provide for at-risk youth.

BUT 

Is the school always willing
to accept, 
accommodate, 
and respond to those at risk 
in a manner that 
supports and enables 
their maximum social, 
emotional 
and intellectual growth and development?

AND

Does the school even have 
the capacity and resources 
to support and enable 
these important factors of growth and development?

The National At-risk Education Network believes all schools should reach out to at-risk kids. NAREN provides some shocking statistics concerning youth at risk from a bad start. According to research by the Children's Defense Fund (2008), every day in America ...

  • 4 children are killed by abuse or neglect
  • 1 young person dies from HIV infection
  • 5 children, or teens, commit suicide
  • 8 children are killed by firearms
  • 181 children are arrested for violent crimes
  • 383 children are arrested for drug abuse
  • 2,383 children are reported abused or neglected
  • 1,153 babies are born to teen mothers
  • 2,411 babies are born into poverty
  • 2,261 children drop out of high school every school day (1 of every 4 high school freshmen fails to finish high school in four years in the USA — multiply that by 180, and the annual figure astounds!)
  • 4,356 children are arrested
This is every day! Multiply these figures (except for the dropout numbers) by 365 if you can bear it. Also:
  • 9,200,000 children are without health insurance
  • 12,423,000 children live in poverty
No doubt, schools must do a better job of meeting the needs of at-risk kids. Public education has too long concentrated its main efforts on identifying "troublemakers" and "risky prospects" and then removing them from the school setting or dealing them punishment that only reinforces their troubling behaviors. But, let's wake up and understand that schools cannot, alone, significantly change the lives of at-risk students. The best schools can do is provide positive experiences that offer at-risk students many good opportunities to help themselves.



Who Needs To Do What?

Any responsible member of a community understands the vital role schools play in nurturing, protecting, and educating children, but that same person must also understand his/her obligation not only to support education but also to help foster positive personal relationships with youth.

Did You Ever Consider This?
Why is a child at risk? 

The at-risk child is a victim of lacking 
or destructive relationships. 

Every child will develop relationships that influence his thinking and his actions. For a child, these relationships and their related consequences develop as a result of involuntary (his/her very birth) or voluntary (his/her friends and peers) situations.

Consider this: involuntary situations that put a child at risk demand outside assistance. If, for example, a child is being abused by his parents, this abuse must be reported by those who witness it; Children's Services must intervene to save further risk to the child; and law and enforcement must act appropriately and swiftly to assure such horrible behavior will stop and never occur again. We, as a responsible society, demand these obligations from individuals and organizations.

Yet, voluntary situations that put a child at risk are not viewed the same. If, for example, an unhealthy peer group exposes a child to numerous unhealthy relationships, the at-risk child is typically blamed for his/her own willing participation and ignorance for becoming a part of such "a crowd." We, as an unsympathetic society, demand little more than the at-risk child "straighten up" and "find new friends."

Peer group relationships are often not healthy since they are based upon immature people's values. The at-risk child cannot grasp this. Instead, he/she sees the group (peer or friends) as a partial solution to his critical, immediate needs. And, they may be a partial solution. Gangs can offer security and a substitute family

But, a gang or any other peer group can not offer unconditional hope, unconditional love, and unconditional forgiveness. It takes a mature caring adult to offer a genuine and valuable relationship to a teen. Many at-risk youth do not have but desperately seek, such as, a healthy relationship with a mature adult, teacher, mentor or friend. We all must become involved.

A Group That Believes In Helping

Non-toxic Youth Alternatives is a group that believes in helping at-risk youth. The group believes in values communicated through relationships from caring adults as well as providing positive and constructive activities for teens.The activities offer alternatives for teens tempted to become involved in destructive behavior. Read about their strategies here: http://www.nontoxicteencenter.com/mission.htm

Here is the belief of Non-toxic Youth Alternatives:


"Teens cannot be forced to make healthy decisions but they can be offered an alternative to dangerous and destructive choices. When a healthy relationship is begun many teens will choose the value rich relationship over the negative temptation. Young people want to feel loved, accepted and valued. The Non-Toxic Teen center is a place this can be realized and experienced."

The group believes values are determined by what we believe is valued by God. 
There are four areas dealt with in this mission of value (quoted from their site):

1. Teens are highly valuable.

"Despite failings in character, wrong choices or willful rebellion, teens are highly valuable. Value does not nullify responsibility but it does force the mature adult to see each person as God sees him or her- Valuable. Value is not based upon performance but upon the very existence of an individual."

2. Genuine Relationships are Highly Valuable.

"Through unconditional love and acceptance trust and value are communicated. Relationships don't just happen, and they do not naturally nurture themselves. A genuine relationship is one where the caring adult seeks to look beyond the teen's life resume, and instead gazes at each teen as an individual, as possessing intrinsic value and a life whose story is just beginning to be written."

3. Positive Alternatives are Highly Valuable.


"Unless a young person is actively involved in a number of extracurricular school activities (and this is no guarantee) the time available to begin a harmful habit or the temptation to partake of a dangerous activity are overwhelming."

4. Quality is Highly Valuable.

"Parks, Malls and the city streets have become the place most frequented by teens. In these areas little or no supervision is available and the opportunity to be involved in destructive activities is overwhelming. In order to compete with these exciting avenues of potential destruction any type of alternative program must be of a high quality. The facilities provided by Non-Toxic are clean, neat and contemporary offering many different types of games and activities and positive alternatives. Adult supervision is always present."
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